Despite the early renewal, Showtime's House of Lies is still not a good show. Last week's "Our Descent Into Los Angeles" was an interesting moment for the series, marking a significant transition from entertainingly awful to boringly run of the mill. I guess that's an improvement? But since a lot of series aren't outstanding in their first seasons, it is at least a little bit promising that the creators recognize and are actively trying to solve a lot of the show's problems. "Bareback Town" was another arguably 'better' show for the series in its desire to develop some actual characters and conflicts and yet it was even less enjoyable to watch.
"Coco was a she you fucking bitch. That dog meant everything to me."
First, I don't think it's a good sign when the Doug and Clyde storyline is arguably the week's strongest. But with a title like "Bareback Town" - which instantly reminded me of "Microphallus," my least favorite episode so far - I don't think I should have had high expectations. The bromance continues with Clyde's story about his dog Coco during her dying moments before the not so surprising realization that he still doesn't have a heart and that Coco is made up to ensure that he's always be penis deep in lady vajayjay. Of course, Doug is impressed and then uses the story on his date with the counter girl, something that doesn't sit so well with a surprisingly cock-blocking Clyde, who's been tailing the couple ever since he spotted them in the hotel lobby.
And even though I think they wasted another opportunity for some compelling conflict by having the girl apologize and run away (?), I did like how for once there was actually another layer to the in-fighting. This time it actually wasn't about the girl but about their relationship and the possible trouble at work with the impending merger. Clyde didn't like Doug stomping on his territory (you see, Doug crunches numbers and Clyde makes models) and it's nice to see that there is something else on boys' minds except scamming girls.
Although, not to shower too much praise, I was saddened to see the usually sweet and incompetent Doug resort to using the sleazy Coco trick when his lack of charm was working so well. He's should be used a counter to Clyde, not simply his bumbling sidekick, especially since they are both already sidekicks to the main members of the Pod. But I did like the joke about two white guys in handcuffs. One laugh.
"Now that we've moved on to awkward drinks in my bosses room..."
Jeannie role in "Bareback Town" is both moral compass and the character forced to get into this week's embarrassing sexual exploit. Satisfying the client is especially important with the impending merger because it could all but ensure security for Marty and his team even with the takeover. However, as much as the MetroCapital cloud has been hanging over the series, I haven't for one second felt they were actually a legitimate threat to Marty and therefore Jeannie suddenly agreeing to hop into bed with this CMO seems completely unearned. Plus, she seems too smart to be so easily conned, talked into it from Marty (oh right, daddy issues).
I will give them credit for solving the procedural aspect in a slightly different way this time - Jeannie drugging the slutty CMO was clever as was Marty selling her out - but the Pod's success was never really in doubt, so again there was very little tension. I'm waiting for the first time they don't have the answer because that might actually help create some real suspense and compelling drama.
However, when Jeannie wasn't busy trying to extricate herself from the awkward sexual situation, she was forced to play stand-in for the audience on this week's bit of self-righteous posturing. You see, House of Lies still very much wants to be a social satire and have something biting to say about the current corporate and consumer driven culture so this week the show has to take a few minutes to explain to us that, even though the product is potentially harmful, money is ultimately the bottom line. Surprised?
So, despite Jeannie's indignation (unbelievable despite Bell's great acting), the Galweather and Stearn strategy is to do whatever it takes, at whatever cost, to ensure that they are rolling in the green. Too bad the show has real trouble balancing tone, so these moments just come across as oddly out of place and preachy in a show that spends most of its time talking about using dead dogs to get laid.
"Okay, well, you're going to be eating so much crow when I come back here with blueballs you're going to have feathers coming out of your ass."
The episode's terrible title refers to the blueball inducing conundrum that Marty finds himself in before heading out on the road to Tampa, sorry, D.C. A change that I think is supposed to suggest the immediacy of this week's procedural aspect but like every thing else, it's executed in such a way that the urgency or importance doesn't come across at all. The show is far too cool and casual for that, except for a few moments of over the top drama or self serving righteousness.
Marty makes a promise to his new girlfriend, yes girlfriend, April that he won't sleep with anyone on this roadtrip, hence the blueballs and as a reward, if he succeeds, she agrees to let him have sex with her without a condom. High stakes! But this inability to fornicate on the road does cause a chain reaction of unfortunate events for Marty and the members of Galweather and Stearn. Who thought abstinence would create so many problems?
You see, the CMO at the pharmaceutical company that G&S is called in to help is a horny lady (aren't they all?) and since Marty can't possible cheat and/or lie to his new stripper girlfriend, he passes the fuck, sorry, the buck to Jeannie. Oh, and Monica is also on the prowl in D.C. so he has to avoid her unhealthy advances. It's weird to argue this but perhaps Marty is actually becoming too safe too fast. Showing too much sudden restraint that his development feels anything but genuine. In fact, it almost feels like they are trying out a new starting point, erasing everything that happened in the three episodes between the pilot and episode 4 by planting an endless amount of new narrative seeds - the reappearance of April, the constant cloud of MetroCapital, the budding conflict with Brenda, Jeremiah's Parkinson's (WTF?) and Monica's new found interest in Roscoe. This late world, story and character building may be part of the reason why the show feels boring, because it's simply way behind where it should be and playing catch up.
"I am trying to be serious right now. Is there anything that you won't do? Anything? Not a rhetorical question girls. Is there a line that you won't cross?"
It's sad that the evolution of Showtime's House of Lies is perhaps more interesting than the resulting show, especially since a lot of the creative changes should be for the better. The overbearing style has been replaced by a much more subtle and palatable delivery and yet, now, well, it's just boring. And full of unlikable people who are also, unfortunately, seriously underdeveloped. Actually, it's not just the characters that are underdeveloped, everything in the series seems to happen 'just because' and then, when the conflict is finally reaching a point of being engaging, the series manages to deflate all the tension and the promise by having no consequences or sometimes even no resolution at all - what happened to that guy April killed?
Problems pop up out of the blue and are solved or shelved just as fast. Or there are just an endless stream of set-ups with no payoffs. Just stringing us along but with uninteresting bait or constantly playing reboot in an attempt to find an engaging program amongst the mess. I know it sounds odd but at least when the show started it was so bad you could at least get a kick out of watching the aggressively irritating, showy and faux risqué train wreck. To their credit, a lot of the issues are being addressed and yet, all these 'improvements' have resulted in House of Lies flat-lining. Can it be resuscitated?
House of Lies airs Sundays at 10 p.m ET on Showtime. It stars Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz, Josh Lawson, Dawn Oliveri, Glynn Turman and Donis Leonard Jr. It was created by Matthew Carnahan.