House of Lies – Pilot
Picture, if you will, a cable television show set in New York city that tells the story of a group of professional businesspeople addicted to their firm, and what is it that they sell? Perception, more specifically a way to change the publics perspective of the client, their image. Can you see it? Can you see that working as a show? What if I told you that too much of the show’s drama revolves around sex and that the characters are all unapologetically sexist? You might well say, ‘Ok, but it’s the sixties so they’re supposed to be like that.’ Only i’m not talking about Mad Men, I’m talking about Showtime’s latest dramedy House of Lies; a show that differs from Weiner’s in every manner minus the misogyny.
Whereas Mad Men made up for its historically relevant malaproprism’s by delivering what is undoubtedly some of the best and deepest drama ever put on television, House of Lies disappointingly offers little else to it’s viewers and it doesn’t exen have the excuse of context. See this show is modern and I know that not because of the brisk stream of current social references that the show throws at us (The GFC and Wall-Street crash are at the centre of this week’s ‘case’) nor because of flashy, quick-cut style MTV editing but because only in contemporary, corporate America could such a career as Management consultancy even exist, let alone be the focus of a triple-A television program.
Which is not to say that it is the concept that cripples this program, I don’t much care for crystal-meth dealers either and yet I love Breaking Bad; liking a character and liking a show are two entirely different processes, though that said House of Lies seems like a competition between the two to see which can be the least likeable and still make it on air.
I understand that the show is based on a non-fiction book of the same name that was written by a man on the inside and adapted into the form of a drama, something which seems to be the trend of late (See: The Social Network, Moneyball, Too Big to Fail). The true insights provided by this process are obvious – in fact the show literally pauses to pierce the fourth wall and pass them on to us in another one of those ‘modern’ filmic flourishes – but never really that interesting; the point of learning a language in a television show is so that the writers can use those words to craft sentences and stories with and I just didn’t see that second step happening here, in the work-set scenes Lies seems more of a stylish How-To than a show in of itself.
As for the people inside the suits? Off-screen I am a huge fan of all four, but here they simply seem like they are only on set so as to speak the writers words really, really fast, like half-Gilmore Girls speed fast. Josh, Kristen and Jean-Ralphio all failed to leave anything but a faint impression, which leaves them as the best thing about the show so far; then we have Don. Why come to television for this? I really have to wonder, especially since the role is so poorly suited to his on-screen persona. The protagonist of Lies on paper is light, charming and irreverent whereas Cheadle is best known for his work in genocide biopic Hotel Rwanda. Sure he has proved in the past that he can carry some comedy – in Oceans, Out of Sight and Iron Man – for example, but not to this degree and the end-result is just … awkward.
After a gratuitous visit to a strip-club, a gratuitous late night sexual proposition and a gratuitously graphic discussion of woman’s orgasms the team finally readies to the plate to make their pitch. Will this be what saves the show? Will Don Cheadle follow in another Don’s footsteps and be redeemed in a Randian sense by showing us just how good he is at his job? Will I ever stop asking my rhetorical audience rhetorical questions? The answer to all of the above it no. That scene does stand out as one of the better ones, seeing someone nail something (not a sexual innuendo Lies) is always good watching, but ultimately the success is empty because of how horrible every element is. When unlikable people do useful jobs we will watch (See: Cops of all kinds, specifically NYPD Blue) and when likeable people do bad jobs we will watch (See: above) but when its both, well that’s just too bad and I don’t much care whether or not the show knows it.
Watching this show feels like being slapped in the face by the naked ass of your unconscious ex-wife, an unneccesary image but only one of many that the show greets us with in its opening minute. Maybe the minutes still to come will provide something a little more pleasant, maybe the quality will become consistent enough to forgive the content and maybe this is all part of the show runners plan, but as it stands both the meat and morals of House of Lies was bad. So expect it to be on Showtime for many, many, many years yet; So long as all that afterwork keeps funding Homeland though I’ll be happy.