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By Meredith Alloway · January 10, 2012
Showtime has done it again, and I don’t mean that in the positive sense of the phrase, I mean it literally. They’ve created a show that follows the exact same format as its predecessors. It’s Hank Moody, Frank Gallagher and Dexter Morgan, but this time the anti-hero dons a suit and tie. The network has found success in the unlikely protagonist, a male you both hate and love at the same time. Someone who becomes relatable and likeable through their flaws, but who we still get to watch make mistakes and then suffer the consequences. Sure, they’re all compelling, intriguing characters, but can a satire about the American economy keep this new anti-hero afloat?
House of Lies introduces us to Marty Kaan, played by the consistently impressive Don Cheadle. Marty works for Galweather & Stearn, the #2 consulting firm in the country, and finds no greater pleasure in life than playing America’s 1 percent for everything they own. And women, well they’re his other pastime, and with Showtime, they take no liberties with delivering the sexual shenanigans from the start.
Marty’s team of fast-talkers consists of Jeannie Van Der Hooven (Kristin Bell), Clyde Oberholt (Ben Schwartz) and Doug Guggenheim (Josh Lawson), who equally love the sport of manipulating corporate fat cats. The show breaks the fourth-wall at times to allow Marty an opportunity to look us in the eye and explain all the business school jargon bullshit. The moments, although educational, are slightly awkward, stylized in a way that doesn’t flow smoothly with Marty’s slick way of speaking or the show’s quick way with wit.
Of course, this charming, manipulative main character needs a little depth. Writer Matthew Carnahan (Dirt) delivers all the goods for Marty: an ex-wife who is equally as corrupt, a son going through a gender identity crisis and a melancholy internal realization that he can’t carry on life this way forever. Sin plus sorrow always equals success for Showtime.
But it’s all a little too easy. Perhaps this lies in the shows predictability. When Marty looks into the mirror at the end of the episode, he’s searching for himself, for meaning, and although this moment is meant to be significant, it just feels expected.
Despite the formulaic approach, House of Lies finds hope in its excellent cast. Cheadle is committed to every aspect of Kaan. He’s wild, scheming, clever and also very much a broken man. He can one moment be utterly disgusting in his greed, and the next an understanding, encouraging father. By the way, do we notice another trend? Who knew a serial killer (Morgan) or a sexahlolic (Moody) could be a great daddy? A loving parent always hits an audience hard, and immediately gains our empathy. Kaan is no exception. And the one surprising risk the show takes is its exploration into childrens’ gender identities; it’s pertinent to the times and at the very least, refreshing.
Kaan’s associates are also promising, and let’s just hope they get their equal share of exploration. Bell sports the strong-willed woman attire well and small expositional quips let us know she’s not interested in marrying, but still wants kids. Schwartz provides necessary moments of humor and Lawson’s sarcasm looks like it’ll support Cheadle’s sass well.
But in the end, the show will find success or failure in the way it handles its satire. It’s about corruption in capitalism and for American viewers to swallow the premise smoothly, House of Lies needs to be intensely clever. And as of this moment, it has some serious work to do.