Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sketched TV: House of Lies or 'Thank You for the Airification'

Since I'm kind of a big TV junkie, I thought I'd start reviewing TV shows too. First up, House of Lies!
I was first interested in this when I saw it was Don Cheadle playing the likable jerk in a despicable position, reminiscent of Thank You for SmokingUp in the Air, and even Californication. Unfortunately, it's pretty much an amalgamation of all of those with little else new added on.  Spoilers ahead!

Don Cheadle plays Marty Kaan(because he's kind of a con-man! Get it?! But in all seriousness, if at any time during the season someone breaks down and shouts his last name Shatner-style, it will MAKE the series), a "Management Consultant" who, with his team, trick large companies into giving them buttloads of money to reinvent the company's image. Marty lives with his Father, who is a retired psychiatrist, and his son, who may or may not be gay, and every so often hate-fucks his ex-wife, who runs a competing consulting firm.

Don Cheadle is probably the high point of the show. I also turned in for Kristen Bell and Ben Schwartz, as his cohorts Jeanie and Clyde, but they barely had any good dialogue this episode. They're both incredibly funny in other places so I hope their respective characters get into more hijinks, but as it stands, it's Cheadle's show.  But to be clear, I like Don Cheadle, I don't like his character. If Nick Naylor from Thank you for Smoking had raunchy buttsex with Hank Moody from Californication(you're welcome, Showtime), you'd get Marty Kaan. He's a snide jerk with a likable charm that likes to fuck women and struggles with fatherhood.  Nothing new here in the way of character development.

I wanted to enjoy House of Lies because I, for some horrible reason, really like stories about likable jerks in terrible jobs. This however felt like a generic Frankenstein's monster of the three properties I already mentioned. First, there's the naked women with the boobs everywhere and the main character fucking everything ala Californication.  Actually, I can't say they're copying that because from what I've seen of Showtime's programming, there's a rule that all programs have to have 'X' number of naked people per episode. They start the pilot with Marty and his ex-wife butt naked, then in ten minutes he takes his consulting team to a strip club. It's at this point Showtime announces to the show that it has halfway filled its naked people quota.

And the thing about going to a strip club is that it's not necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn't add anything to the narrative. I get that they're trying to be edgy, but it's not like this is 1994. We've seen strip clubs before, people, even on network television. If you want edge, you're going to have to work harder than that. Although, we do get to see Kristen Bell at a strip club, so they have that going for them.

Second, Marty has this way of stopping time, breaking the forth wall, and speaking directly to the audience to explain his job in silly ways(winking, nodding, and bringing out cardboard signs) much like Thank You for Smoking did, only not as effective. It feels forced and out of place. I know the whole idea is to break the flow of things, but it just totally breaks the flow of things.

Third, remember that scene from Up in the Air in which George Clooney goes through airport security?  I can't say they copied that exact scene, but it's oddly reminiscent. All four of them are talking about the job while smoothly going through airport security as though they've done it a hundred times, and, I don't know, there's nothing new I didn't see there.

Lastly, and what really irked me, during the very last moments of the show, Marty is about to ask Jeanie something over the phone, then stops himself and hangs up. Then he gives this soulful look to the camera. The whole thing feels forced and coming out of left field. He's been this cocky prick this entire time and there's nothing here that forced him to question himself. It feels very tacked on, as though they were quickly going through the show template checklist to make sure, yes, the main character is troubled. Ok, move it along fellas. I would have liked it better if he had smiled and winked to the audience, revealing it's all this elaborate scheme to bed Kristen Bell with the wounded puppy hook.

The few good things to like about the premiere were the awkward situations that occurred, such as Marty going to dinner with a stripper pretending she's his wife or Marty fighting with another mother over his son wanting to play the lead female role in the middle school production of Grease. There were some funny back and forths in the dialogue here and there, and his job does sound halfway interesting, but it sounds like it's veering into sitcom territory, and I don't know how interested I'll be when they start using played out situations when the premise is already played out.

I didn't really love it, but I liked it enough to stay with it for a few more episodes. Hopefully it will smooth out it's wrinkles and figure out something new to bring to the table already saturated with shows about swearing and fucking.

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