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Featured TV on DVD Review: House of Lies: Season One

December 16th, 2012

House of Lies: Season One - Buy from Amazon

House of Lies debut in January of this year on Showtime. The cable network seems to specialize in flawed anti-heroes for their comedies. Many times this works, like with Shameless or Nurse Jackie, other times it doesn't, like with Californication or the later seasons of Weeds. Can the cast of lies maintain the balance between flawed and charming? Or have the writers mistakenly thought selfish and egotistical is a shortcut to compelling characters?

The Show

Don Cheadle stars as Marty Kaan, a 'management consultant' at the second best ranked such firm in the U.S., Galweather & Stearn. (Galweather is Harrison Galweather, his boss.) He works with a team he calls the Pod, Jeannie van der Hooven, his second in command and one of the few people who stands up to him; Doug Guggenheim, who runs the numbers; and Clyde Oberholt, a wanna-be ladies man. Each episode, they travel to different companies and bilk them out of millions in billable hours and sucker them out of money, by appealing to the greed and sense of entitlement.

At the same time, Marty has an interesting home life. At the beginning of the series, we see him naked in bed with a woman, Monica Talbot (Dawn Olivieri), his ex-wife. She is also the top consultant at Kinsley, the best ranked management consultant firm in the U.S. The pair had a son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.), who likes to wear skirts and at the beginning of the series is trying out for the part of Sandy in the school's production of Grease. Fortunately, while neither Marty nor Monica are fit parents, Marty does have help from his father, Jeremiah, although Jeremiah wasn't much of a father to Marty when Marty was a child.

There is certainly some potential in this setup, but how is the execution? Rather weak, sadly. The show certainly has a lot of targets that are ripe for satire, but the writers don't have steady enough aim to hit their targets. Instead of going after the corporate culture, which would have made the show intriguing, they give us 'bad' characters hoping we will be drawn into the bad behavior in a voyeuristic way. Anti-heroes are interesting because conflict is important to a plot, and anti-heroes are conflicted characters. However, in this show, 'bad' means, 'likes to have a lot of sex' not because that adds to the plot, but because that gives an excuse to show lots of nudity. Speaking of which...

Don't try to out porn porn. I've given this advice before, but clearly Showtime needs to hear it again. You will never be able to out porn porn, but many cable shows add nudity and sex into a show, because they think it makes the show more marketable. It doesn't. It grinds the plot to a halt and tends to come off as pathetic and desparate.

There are other issues, including Marty breaking the fourth wall to explain the consulting industry. There is a lot of jargon that they use within the industry, and to con their clients into thinking they are doing something worth the money. However, it quickly becomes a gimmick, as it is overused.

On the other hand, I really like the actors and they do their best with thinly written characters. That's not enough to save the show.

The Extras

Extras on the two-disc set include audio commentary tracks on two episodes, the first and the last of the season. (The audio commentary tracks are found in the setup menu. I hate that.) There are also some short interviews with Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, a look at Marty Kaan as a character, and The Rainmaker (a consulting guru in the show). This is better than I was expecting.

The Verdict

Showtime had the best new show of the year, Homeland. House of Lies is far from one of the best new shows of the year. It's not as bad as Californication is, but it is not a show I would watch in my spare time. The Season One - DVD does have better extras than a lot of Showtime shows have, so if you are a fan of the show, it is worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, Kristen Bell, Don Cheadle, Richard Schiff, Glynn Turman, Ben Schwartz, Josh Lawson