Splitsider

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
TV

Assessing the House of Lies Pilot: Is It a Series to Watch?

House of Lies is set to premiere this Sunday on Showtime, but they put the pilot onYouTube yesterday. The show is about a not-so-ragtag group of management consultants trying to manage and/or consultant (I don’t know how business works) in this crazy world and features many familiar, well-liked faces. Should you watch it?

Reasons you should watch:

It stars a movie star and that movie star is Don Cheadle

If anything can be learned from New Girl is that it’s an absolute joy to be able to watch a movie star on TV each week (and that school teachers in LA have an endless supply of vintage dresses). Luckily for House of Lies, their movie star is the absolutely wonderful Don Cheadle. Cheadle is a capital-A actor who is supremely magnetic. He is a perfect fit for the Marty Kaan role as he has always shined the brightest playing complicated, charming iconoclasts. There is a scene at the end of the pilot where his always on persona drops for a brief second while he looks into the mirror — hot damn that’s acting. It’s a scene a lesser actor would've botched, but Cheadle is able to bring subtlety to big characters.

Showtime might be on a roll

Showtime has always been the less artful, more fun cousin to HBO and then they aired Homeland. What a difference one show makes in the perception of a network. Homeland was so perfectly executed that the entire network looks better in proximity. Maybe House of Lies will become part of a deadly one-two programming punch.

You love Ben Schwartz

Currently most famous for playing the incomparable, scene-stealing Jean-Ralphio on Parks & Recreation, Ben Schwartz is the best. So funny, so silly, Schwartz brings an obvious excitement to this part that will be a joy each week. The part demands he play it a bit more straight but there is still gold when he dances at the strip club and during his reaction shots. When the show’s resident milquetoast drops his Harvard education, Schwartz makes a truly hilarious disgusted face. It’s a start.

You like boobies, butts, and swears

If you decide to watch the premier via the YouTube upload, you will instantly notice this omnipresent grey square that blocks out all the naughty bits. This square gets more screen time than Kristen Bell. For no reason whatsoever, twenty minutes in or so, the stripper that Cheadle brought to a business dinner excuses herself to the restroom and proceeds to go down on that actress who played that prissy girl Don Draper dated on Mad Men before he dated that Jewish psychologist and engaged that pretty secretary with large teeth (UGH! Mad Men needs to come back already). Also, it seems like there is going to be some nice shots of some Cheadle-butt, ladies. It’s definitely something.

It’s trying to say something about stuff

The first episode goes right at jerk bankers who made a zillion dollars off screwing over homeowners. In general, it’s a satirical look at corporate excess and waste. The bizarrely long scene at the strip club did help them meet their boob-quota but also represented just how tone-deaf and lacking of empathy they are. It’s a show for the times.

Reasons you shouldn’t watch:

It’s not funny but it sure thinks it is

The show is definitely supposed to be a comedy, I think. All the promos had major key music playing behind smiling actors so it must be a comedy. There are lines that were supposed to be jokes but weren’t funny per se. They literally have a character do that thing where they pretend to cough but actually say “bullshit,” which hasn’t been funny or novel in maybe 16 years. It feels like a bunch of drama writers were forced to write a comedy but lack the mental joke mechanics that the best sitcom writers have. Instead of jokes…

It substitutes slickness for comedy

This is a distinctly premium cable problem; they try to shoot their comedies to look and feel like their dramas, ignoring that comedies often get stifled by such rigidness. So instead of comedy, the show is cool. The cuts come fast and furiously with lots of snappy sound effects, the smirky dialogue is 1.5 times faster than humans can talk, and everything is done to project a certain sort of hyper-reality. Crazy things happen that I imagine were supposed to draw out chuckles and hollers but mostly they feel dishonest. The show is its own house of lies and if its worst tendencies are indulged it might grow to be similar to another beacon of shallowness…

It might be the heir to the Entourage dude-bro throne

The pilot has so much braggadocio and posturing to kill a dead horse — Cheadle’s character literally drops how much money he makes in the first few minutes. The balance between cautionary tale and showing off is a bit out of wack. A wrong turn and it can be the new show most readily quoted over bottle service.

You have no interest in management consulting

Maybe it’s trying to do to modern day consulting what Mad Men did for 1960’s advertising (miss u MM), but taken out of context, House of Lies plays like an EXTREMELY well produced management consultant training video. The big stylistic gambit the show employs is every few scenes Cheadle will address the camera directly, you know like Zack Morris, which is fine enough if it wasn’t used 90% of the time to explain what lingo like “counseled out” mean. They’re like footnotes and we all know how hilarious footnotes are.

It’s trying to say something about stuff

Speaking of that fourth wall breaking, I was sure at any moment Cheadle was going to look at me and say “Hey, this is some seriously satirical satire, right?” No one since that reindeer Rudolph has tried to milk so much from being on the nose. We get it, we get it, rich people are bad and sad, their crowns are heavy, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I’m expecting a “we are the 1%” punchline in the first five episodes, easy. I don’t know how the writers raise their arms to pitch ideas each week, considering how heavy their hands seem to be.

Jesse David Fox is a freelance writer, cat person, and Jew (in that order). He lives in Brooklyn. He got a B+ in the only business class he took in college.

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  • Eric Silver@twitter

    Great breakdown. I watched the first episode and thought I was beginning another season of Californication, which I can't stand. And that "impressive" powerpoint they did for the client was like the scholarship speech from "The Girl Next Door", except not meant to be intentionally bad.

  • ladyfriend@twitter

    Do CEOs ever jump out of their chairs to express umbrage? Has that ever in the history of meetings actually happened? I thought the jowly guy at the head of the table was going to embrace the screen and weep out of sudden self-awareness during that presentation… when it turned out he was actually angry, the effect wasn't much better.

  • grovberg

    "They’re like footnotes and we all know how hilarious footnotes are."

    DFW begs to differ.