April 8, 2013



Showtime’s HOUSE OF LIES was a bit more ambitious in its second season, and that was a good move, even if the results were uneven.  In its initial season, House was all too clearly a companion piece for Californication, a weekly half-hour of light, sexy satire around the consulting group campfire, with Don Cheadle’s Marty Kaan as snarky camp counselor, often breaking the fourth wall to provide direct commentary, and dropping into bed with one hot woman or another in most episodes.  Those gimmicks were still around in Season 2, along with Russian twin clients whose names conveniently allowed them to be called the “Douchebags” and a sex toys mogul, but their prominence was diminished, and there was a new emphasis, at least at times, on plotting and character development.

It took a while to get around to the point of Season 2, but when House did, it finally had some impact.  Over the course of the season, we watched the pressures on Marty mount.  At Galweather Stearn, new boss Julianne (Bess Armstrong) kept him feeling like a subordinate just when the events of Season 1 had him ready to be a boss.  At home, his son Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr) chose to live with his ex-wife Monica (Dawn Olivieri), and an extended visit from brother Malcolm (Larenz Tate), as ostentatiously progressive and dismissive of Marty as he was happy to spend Marty’s money, drove Marty crazy.  More existential issues came into play when Marty had a rough encounter with the LAPD that wasn’t quite racial (one of the cops was black), but had definite overtones.  All of that pushed him to start his own shop, stealing clients from Galweather and dealing duplicitously with both friends and foes.  Meanwhile, though, Marty’s ruthlessness, his willingness to dump on anyone who might impede his forward movement, and his refusal to acknowledge any genuine emotion or loyalty started driving away his “pod” of underlings:  ambitious Clyde (Ben Schwartz), pompous Doug (Josh Lawson) and seemingly tough but hopelessly lovelorn Jeannie (Kristen Bell).

All of this reached an effective climax in tonight’s season finale, written by series creator Matthew Carnahan and Co-Executive Producer David Walpert, and directed by Stephen Hopkins (Hopkins is clearly beloved by Showtime, since he also directed the Californication season finale).  Constructed with a trickiness unusual for this show, with several layers of flashback built around an explosive moment of revelation, it left Marty with his new company but–for now, at least–no colleagues, as Doug decided to stay at Galweather, Clyde betrayed Marty and went to work for Monica, and Jeannie just couldn’t get far enough away from him.

This was interesting stuff, and Cheadle, who seemed to be coasting through Season 1, had some meat to play with this year–and of course rose to the occasion.  House, though, still feels like a show in transition, with a tone that sometimes lurched from episode to episode.  The early part of the season didn’t match up particularly well with the back half (although the first half did include a very funny, virtually free-standing half-hour devoted to Matt Damon playing something like the “Matt Damon” who hijacked Jimmy Kimmel’s show earlier in the season), and guest star characters like sketchy co-worker Tamara (Nia Long) and Doug’s now-wife Sarah (Jenny Slate) were left stranded by the shifts.  Some of the jokes were smart but others were way overdrawn, and near-slapstick tried to mix with soul-searching.  It also didn’t help that as the season went on, it became increasingly difficult to hide Bell’s real-life pregnancy, which led to her being photographed mostly in suffocating close-ups in the later episodes.

Season 2 of House of Lies was more promising than great, laying the groundwork for what may be a superior series in Season 3 (the show, which gets reasonable if not stand-out ratings, has already been renewed).  With Cheadle in the lead, there’s really no place it can’t go, and perhaps Showtime, which is itself segueing from being the network of Californication to the home of Homeland, is more open now to the show being somewhat less eager to please.  The irony is that in traveling the distance from one kind of series to another, House of Lies could use, as much as anything, a knowledgeable, reliable consultant–if any exist.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."