January 11, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “House of Lies”


HOUSE OF LIES:  Sunday 10PM on Showtime

HOUSE OF LIES deserves some credit for nailing the Wolf of Wall Street vibe before there was a Wolf of Wall Street.  Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) and his “pod” of business consultants have already spent 2 seasons merrily doing drugs, having inappropriate sex and swindling their own clients out of the money entrusted to them while feeling pretty good about themselves, and viewed in half-hour bites, their misbehavior feels less wearying and repetitious than Martin Scorsese’s epic film does by its end.  Sure, Scorsese and his team supply a dose of moviemaking genius that series creator Matthew Carnahan and house director Stephen Hopkins can’t match (not to mention a $100M budget, which is almost certainly more than all the episodes of Lies‘ 3 seasons have cost together), but on the other hand Lies gives its characters more hints of humanity than Wolf is interested in providing.

Lies had more than its share of dramatic plot developments to end Season 2, and the Season 3 premiere, written by Carnahan and directed by Hopkins, suggests it plans to take its time in reversing them.  Marty finally started his own consulting firm as last season ended, as he’d been scheming to do all season, but he did it without his pod:  his beloved–not that he’d ever tell her so–Jeannie (Kristen Bell), along with pompous, insecure Doug (Josh Lawson) stayed at Marty’s old firm (Jeannie got a promotion out of it), while loose cannon Clyde (Ben Schwartz)–think of him as the Jonah Hill to Cheadle’s DiCaprio–was even more traitorous, going to work for Marty’s ex-wife Monica (Dawn Olivieri), who runs yet another competing firm.

As Season 3 starts, none of them are very happy.  Marty’s new firm is doing fairly well, but as the owner, he has to deal with the pressure of attracting and holding onto clients, and his new two-guys-and-a-girl pod (all 3 of the consulting firms we see here have the same demo) doesn’t compare to the one he lost.  Jeannie and Doug are grinding away without Marty’s inspiration, and Clyde has discovered that working for a hateful shrew has its disadvantages.  One assumes that eventually they’ll all find themselves back on the same team, but the premiere just provides a first halting step along that road, as Marty proposes that Jeannie join forces with him to represent two competing supermarket chains, illicitly pitting both against each other to increase their mutual fees.  Keeping the characters apart for a while isn’t a bad thing, since for now at least, watching these people forced to function without one another is giving the show a chance to explore them in different contexts.

House of Lies often isn’t as smart as it wants to be (or thinks it is), but it’s got energy to spare with Carnahan’s pseudo-Mamet patois and some terrific actors.  Marty began as rather a one-note character, and Cheadle has consistently added dimensions and vulnerabilities to him, although the less seen of Marty’s father Jeremiah (Glynn Turman) and uncertain-sexuality son Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr), who are minimally present in the premiere, the better–Marty’s universe is best expressed through his interactions with his work and associates.  Bell, too, has successfully mixed Jeannie’s toughness with deeper feelings, and while Clyde and Doug are more limited characters, Schwartz and Lawson at expert at squeezing the laughs out of them, and even occasionally betraying fragments of humanity.  As the show has gone on, Carnahan has relied less on stylistic gimmicks like Marty archly speaking directly to camera and trusted the show more to its characters

Lies has been a fair success for Showtime, with around 800,000 total viewers and 18-49 ratings in the 0.4 range for initial airings.  The series has fit very well on the line-up with Californication, another bad-boy half-hour; it remains to be seen whether it will prove as compatible with Episodes this season.  For those who want to watch the more ruthless and irresponsible side of human nature celebrated, but have less than 3 hours to spare, it’s Wolf-lite.


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."