‘House of Lies’ Recap, Season 1, Episode 1: “Gods of Dangerous Financial Instruments”
Is Showtime’s much-hyped new comedy a boom or a bust?
“House of Lies Premiere Recap: A Play in One Act”
Person is waiting for the bus on the street. Suddenly, they spot an ad for the new Showtime drama “House of Lies.”
Person: Huh! I wonder what this TV show, starring Don Cheadle, Veronica Mars, John-Ralphio, and some guy who looks like ‘Arli$$,’ is about. Based on the poster, I am going to guess that it is about people who work at:
A. a PR firm.
B. a swanky Las Vegas casino.
C. a comically evil law office.
D. an aquarium supply store.
House of Lies poster: No way, man! We’re a show about corporate consulting!
Person: What’s that?
HOL poster: It’s doing contract work while using a supposed “specialized skill set” to earn a huge payday from enormous corporations, usually by helping them save money/ look good/ screw people.
Person: Like the corporation that owns my fucked-up mortgage?
HOL poster: Possibly.
Person: Hold on a second, while I decide whether that information is going to spur me to become a corporate consultant or kill myself.
HOL poster: That’s cool, I’ll wait. I’m just a psychotic hallucination that you’re having, anyway.
So: our tale begins with nudity (I mean, this is Showtime, amiright? Wakka wakka!). That sexxxy naked butt belongs to Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle), a manager at the #2 corporate consulting firm in America, Galweather & Stearn. The lady by his side, it seems, had a little too much last night, and our first moments with Marty consist of him dragging his passed-out lady friend into her clothes and propping her up unconvincingly in a chair with a laptop (while still out cold). Is this supposed to show us that he’s manipulative and willing to do anything to get what he wants? Not necessarily! It could just mean that he volunteers to help passed-out ladies put their clothes on as charity work. You never thought of that, did you?! You cynical monster.
The lady is Monica (Dawn Olivieri), his sexy ex-wife, and mother of his adorable non-gender-conforming son, Roscoe (Donis Keonard Jr)! Oh no, she is a pillhead! Oh NO, she is a manager at the #1 corporate consulting firm in America, Kinsley! OH NO, she is a jerk about their kid! MARTY! What are you going to do? Answer: kick her out and then partake of delicious breakfast treats being prepared by his father, Jeremiah (Glynn Turman), a retired psychiatrist who lives with Marty and Roscoe. Sensitive Jeremiah cheers Roscoe’s desire to try out for the role of Sandy in “Grease,” and Marty, though clearly a little baffled by his son, also loves him dearly and supports his Pink Lady dreams.
But enough about Marty’s adorable family (who exist to keep him from looking like a complete asshole)! What about his terrible, evil job? Marty works in a “pod” of consultants, alongside smart, level-headed-girl-in-a-pack-of-unruly-dudes Jeannie (Kristen Bell), sleazy Clyde (Ben Schwartz) and nebbishy Harvard dude Doug (Josh Lawson). When we first catch up with them, they are on their way to New York City, where they’re going to advise the Morgan Stanley/ Goldman Sachs/ etc stand-in Metro Capital on how to improve their public image in light of the mortgage crisis and how they, like, kind of caused it and all.
But the Metro Capital bigwigs don’t seem that interested in Kaan’s ideas, and they’ve brought in Kinsley (and jerkwad Monica) to possibly push the Pod out. The only solution? A Metro Capital-bankrolled trip to the nudie bar! Hey, shut up, it helps them think.
Marty spends all night at the club, and ends up going for breakfast the next morning with a stripper named April. There, he runs into a Metro Capital second-in-command Greg, and plans a couples dinner with him later that day. You know, with April. His “wife.” Does April randomly have sex with Greg’s actual wife in the bathroom? Of course she does! Does the plan backfire completely, losing Marty the corporate goodwill he had so hoped to obtain? Of course it does! Everything is lost!
Or…is it? Of course it isn’t! Marty is a good-looking maverick who plays by his own rules–what do you think is going to happen? He and the pod present a totally evil program that will allow Metro Capital to look like they’re providing loan amnesty for mortgages, when in reality, the plan is just a cover for them to take their bonuses. And that gets the Pod the job. Uh, yay?
Also, Jeannie mentions about five times this episode that she’ll never sleep with Marty, so I guess they’re going to have sex in, what, episode five?
Every actor in “House of Lies” is at the top of their game—Cheadle kills it, I am thrilled to see Bell get some work worthy of her immense talents, and I look forward to seeing Schwartz John-Ralphio all over the place in this coming season. But “House of Lies” never quite comes together. It’s clear what it wants to be: another anti-hero-driven premium cable romp. But in the premiere at least, the basic elements of “House of Lies”–the black humored jokes, the wink to the audience that shows that these bad guys are actually sort of good guys, the obligatory moment of soul-searching—just don’t quite cohere. Sure, we’re a generation of cable TV watchers who have empathized with a Mafioso, a drug dealer, a serial killer, a statutory rapist, and a gin-soaked philanderer. But a corporate profiteer, even one who profiteers on other corporations? You’d better be damn good if you’re going to get us to go along on that guy’s journey of moral redemption in our current cultural moment. It’s tough to laugh when Marty gets one over on Metro Capital and wastes their money, because…um, well, that used to be our money. And “House of Lies” does not appear to be quite up to the challenge of helping us find the humor in that.
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