April 7, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “House of Lies”


In its third season, HOUSE OF LIES tried to have more substance than it did in previous years, and part of the time it worked.  The end of Season 2 had scattered the cast, with Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) forming his own consulting shop, while the members of his “pod,” Jeannie (Kristen Bell), Clyde (Ben Schwartz) and Doug (Josh Lawson) either stayed at the old firm or went elsewhere.  It gave Marty more emotional skin in the game, with a need to make the new company work that didn’t let him coast on his cynical charm and gamesmanship quite as much.

Before long, naturally, Jeannie, Clyde and Doug were back with Marty, even if in Clyde’s case it was on a provisional basis because he’d gone to work for Marty’s dreaded ex-wife Monica (Dawn Olivieri) before being fired from there, losing his beloved lifestyle and generally crashing.  The season’s second half concentrated on DollaHyde, a hip-hop fashion label run by childhood friends Lukas Frye and Dre Collins (T.I. and Mekhi Phifer, both excellent), a storyline that embroiled Marty not just in his need for a blockbuster client, but for a friend he thought he’d found in Dre, the more sophisticated counterpart to Lukas’s street style.  The story turned quite dark in the end.  Meanwhile, Marty’s always simmering near-relationship with Jeannie moved closer to reality.

There were some sharp, incisive developments in Season 3, including a willingness to deal with issues of race and specifically with class distinctions within the African-American community that most television won’t touch.  Cheadle was his usual excellent self, but this season Bell and especially Schwartz got to go deeper with their roles than they had before.  In the end, though, series creator Matthew Carnahan couldn’t sustain the tone or the show’s storylines.

The season finale, written and directed by Carnahan, featured some big events, but they were undercut by the contrivances that dominated the script.  Marty and Jeannie finally decided that they wanted to try to have a relationship–which of course almost instantly cued a disaster that would throw the pair asunder.  In this case, it was the extremely unlikely development that as a result of a meeting Jeannie had several episodes ago with an old friend who worked for the Department of Justice in which Jeannie had said she could give the friend damaging information on DollaHyde’s connection to the drug business (Jeannie wanted Kaan & Associates distanced from DollaHyde so she could push ahead with a government contract the company’s reputation was blocking), the FBI showed up en masse at Kaan & Associates, refusing to explain what they were looking for, and then even when they found nothing at all on DollaHyde, proceeded to uncover Marty and Jeannie’s collusion very early in the season to play their respective clients against each other in order to generate fees.  This was topped by the government’s decision to let Jeannie go free (which her friend publicly announced) while arresting Marty, and in a world where a white-collar criminal has to be Bernie Madoff to see jail time, supposedly the feds were going to come down hard on Marty.

All of it culminated in Marty relinquishing his own company to Jeannie and driving out to the desert, where he was apparently having a spiritual rebirth when last seen.  It wasn’t especially convincing, and it showed Carnahan being led by his plot twists rather than by the characters he’d worked so hard to deepen all season.   (Well, except for Doug, who remained the series punchline, this season pathetically chasing a young associate who had no interest in him and enduring a shrewish marriage.)  The same letdown affected the Clyde plot, which began promisingly with his buying his way back in with Marty by vowing to deliver the business of his billionairess, drug-addled girlfriend (Eliza Coupe), a story that just dribbled to an end when she abruptly dumped him, leading to no consequences with Marty.

The other thread of House of Lies, Marty’s family life, felt even less germane this season than it was in the past, with Marty’s gender-conflicted son Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr) befriending/dating a female counterpart before apparently finding happiness as a street dancer in the finale, while Marty’s father Jeremiah (Glynn Turman) did little more than happily date a much younger woman.

House of Lies is an entertaining show for the most part, fast-paced and written smartly, with a very fine cast, but it’s a perpetual underperformer.  (Not in the ratings, though, where it does well if unspectacularly for Showtime.)  Too intelligent to just be the Marty Kaan Show, with Marty taking advantage of all the sucker clients in his path, it never quite delivers on its ambitions to do something more.  Maybe Carnahan is the one who needs to spend some time in the desert.

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."