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"What does a management consultant do exactly?" This is a question posed throughout Showtime's dark comedy series House of Lies, which stars Don Cheadle as Marty "The Con Man" Kaan, a "mad genius" at the consultant game who heads up a pod of cutthroat and kooky acolytes. Set in a world of luxury, fast dealings and unchecked depravity, the show seems like a modern-day Mad Man with Cheadle as its smooth and sexy Don Draper. However, while House of Lies is full of swagger and style, it's light on substance. In short, it's a show about sharks that never delves deep, instead staying in the shallow waters of shocks and sex.
Let's return for a moment to the question of what a management consultant actually does. In the show, they are brought in to a company to help smooth out crises, like a scandal over audacious holiday bonuses, sorting out controversial mergers or plans to expand a mega-church into a mega-mega-church. But Marty and his posse are at every turn opportunists, who care less about their unscrupulous clients and more about how to squeeze more money out of them. They are deplorable people who frequently dabble in double-dealing, sexual favors and flat-out lies to get what they want. But this is sort of the fun of House of Lies. It's flashy and slick with a devilish and comically oversexed audacity that makes it a scintillating delight.
The show is stocked with wild characters. There's Marty, who is fast on his feet whether he's wooing a client or romancing a stripper. Then there's his team, made up of Jeannie, a secretive and sharp ballbuster who only rolls her eyes at Marty's flirtations (Kristen Bell), Doug, an easily flustered kiss-ass (Josh Lawson), and Clyde, a crass and quipping bro-dude played by consummate scene-stealer Ben Schwartz (AKA Parks and Recreation's Jean-Ralphio).
At home, Marty lives with his retired psychiatrist father (Glynn Turman), who urges him to have patience with his 10-year-old son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.), a sweet boy who confounds his father with his penchant for wearing skirts, glittery tops, and pink flip flops. Though Roscoe's gender bending is a recurring plot point of the show—with Marty being fiercely protective of his son while still being confused by him—the boy is shown to be warm and well-adjusted. This is a welcome surprise since his dad is a duplicitous and his mom, Marty's ex-wife Monica (Dawn Olivieri), is introduced as a sociopathic pill-popper who not only still has occasional hate sex with her ex, but also is his top business rival.
As you can imagine, with characters like these, the plotlines should get pretty wild. They do, veering from Marty and Monica's love-hate relationship to the sexual skeletons in Jeannie's closet to Roscoe's fight for acceptance at school and attention at home. Unfortunately, these emotional arcs are often undercooked, as the weekly plot of business in crisis dominates each episode. Worse yet, these biz-centered stories are laden with jargon and fast turns that make them pretty hard to follow. To try to keep us up to speed with the fast-paced series, Marty often freeze frames the action and directly addresses the audience to fill them in on the whos, whats, whys and slang. However, when it comes to the plots resolution, this device is forgotten, and I apparently I lack the business savvy to understand the details of how the pod sank or swam in most ventures.
Another element that doesn't quite click is the sexual chemistry between Cheadle and Bell. While both are undoubtedly attractive and seductive—especially when shown in their undies—anytime they flirt, it feels forced. The series seems to be setting them up to be its Sam and Diane, but the dynamic just doesn't work. As destructive and demented as she is, Olivieri's Monica is far more electric with Cheadle's Kaan, so I found myself rooting for them to reunite, if only for the liveliness of their severely fucked up sex scenes. (Amsterdam!)
Ultimately, House of Lies' first season shows some interesting avenues and intriguing characters, and offers plenty of panache and punch lines. But its business plotlines aren't written for the average viewer to follow and its character arcs are underwritten, leading to climactic moments that don't always land. Still, the cast is staffed with solid performers who are undeniably entertaining in full-on swagger mode. In short, Season 1 is a good show, but not a great one.
When it comes to the attributes of the DVD set itself, the picture and audio quality is great, but the special features are lackluster. There are brief interviews with Cheadle and Bell, featurettes exploring the character of Marty Kaan and his mysterious boss Marco "The Rainmaker" Pelios, cast bios, and a photo gallery. None of these are terribly interesting or insightful. There are also two commentary tracks—one for the pilot and one for the finale—feature Cheadle, Lawson, and Schwartz (but no Bell) as well as writer Matthew Carnahan and executive producer Jessika Borsiczky. These are more jovial than informative, with the commentators jokingly overhyping their contributions to the show's creation and teasing each other. But be warned, you won't find these tracks in the special features portion of the menu. Oddly fitting, it's far more convoluted than that. Instead, go to the Setup option, select the commentary track in the audio setup menu. Then return to the Episode Selection menu and select the corresponding episode. You're welcome.
Length: 347 minutes
Distributor: Showtime Ent.
Release Date: December 18, 2012
Starring: Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz, Josh Lawson, Dawn Olivieri
Directed by:Stephen Hopkins
Created by: Matthew Carnahan