Jan 6, 2012

TV Review: House of Lies

You can't see what's under those bars.
She can, but you can't

House of Lies premieres this Sunday on Showtime, and, thanks to the lovely people at Showtime and the venerable artists of YouTube, the pilot was available for viewing ahead of time (sans Showtime’s trademark nudity). The show stars Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Rush Hour 2) as Marty Kaan, management consultant and family man. His life is very of-the-moment. He consults for the 1% yet uses the 99% to aid him in his endeavors. In the real world his life would be enviable, with a posh apartment, sexy consorts, and sexier consorts. Except this is a Showtime show, so he is an absolute wreck. The first few minutes of the show find him waking up next to his druggie-ex-wife (who is so out of it that she doesn’t really remember their previous night of boning) and then going into the kitchen to explain to his gender-confused son and his father why ex-wifey is there at all. Then, he flies to New York with his cracker-jack management consultant team, which includes Veronica Mars and Jean Ralphio (Kristen Bell and Ben Schwartz) as well as some other guy (Josh Lawson), all
the while engaging in sexy-talk with Bell’s Jeannie Van Der Hooven.

There is a lot to like about the pilot. It’s slickly shot, remarkably fast-paced (both in speech cadences and in overall plot), and well-acted.  Bell, in particular, is able to overcome her character’s ridiculous name and somewhat groan-worthy dialogue to turn in another great performance. Like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, she is made for television – she understands the rhythms, gets the beats, and she makes everyone around her look better. Not to be too effusive, but, as the show goes forward, she could be its saving grace. Writers: give her more to do – dancing sexily (and, if the promos are any indication, getting a little naked) is not enough – she represents the best of us, lazy eyes and all.

Cheadle, as a Kaan-man (puns!) and conflicted father, does a very good job with the material, but he seems oddly cast. As swag-tastic as Cheadle can be (we’ve all seen Ocean’s Eleven), it seems that perhaps his days of easily charming ladies and making strippers love him are in the past – those moments where he’s supposed to be effortlessly amazing instead reek of effort.  Marty Kaan is not a charming anti-hero who is great at his job; he is a smug 40-year-old-version of Zack Morris who is trying too hard. You know the guy:

Adding to his Zack-Morris-ness is that Kaan, for reasons unknown, can freeze time in order to talk directly to the audience, explaining something he has just said or done. Instead of being introduced to the world of management consulting over time, Kaan just freezes time and explains everything. It’s one of the most exposition-heavy pilots I’ve ever seen (including Blue Bloods). There’s no mystery whatsoever – who thought that we’d be aching for the comparatively subtle Weeds Season 3?

Though he lacks in the Mark-Paul Gosselaar department, Kaan’s scenes with and about his son are well-done – Cheadle plays beleaguered father like the best of them. It’s actually touching to see Kaan interact with and protect his son, who is obviously having a rough go of it as he tries out for the part of Sandy in his school’s production of Grease.

The show isn’t perfect, but there is a good show lurking in there somewhere. The creator, Matthew Carnahan, is the creator of that other beautiful mess Dirt, so there is hope.  All he needs to do is get rid of the freeze frames, flesh out some of the secondary characters, and give Kristen Bell and the rest of the ensemble more to do. Of course, maybe I’ll forget all my griping once the nudity is added back in.

Pilot Grade: C+
Kristen Bell Grade: A

Check out House of Lies on January 8th, 10p EST on Showtime
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...