Following the premiere of Shameless, Showtime unleashed its new show, House of Lies, on the television world. I’m not sure if it’s because I expect a lot from Showtime shows or because I was over-excited for the cast but I found myself disappointed with the season premiere. The show comes complete with Showtime’s bold and raunchy style, including lesbian affairs, nudity, swearing, drug abuse and a swearing, gay child. What the show lacked however, was the dark humor, character depth and complexity I have come to expect from a Showtime show.
The first episode of House of Lies chronicles the efforts of a management consulting team as they attempt to land one of their biggest clients yet. The four man team is lead by Marty Kaan, played by Don Cheadle, and the cast doesn’t stop there. Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) plays the no-nonsense Jeannie Van Der Hooven, Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation) plays Clyde Oberholt, a subdued version of Jean-Ralphio, and Josh Lawson plays Doug Guggenheim, the team’s final member. The actors and characters have some chemistry on screen but a lot of the dialogue and conversation seemed staged and contrived. The scenes between Cheadle and Bell were, in my opinion, especially staged. What was supposed to be witty banter came off as creepy and forced.
Many different moments during the episode, time froze which allowed Cheadle’s character to address us, the viewers. The idea could have been used as a brilliant comedic tool but in the season opener, more often than not, it was used to present information in a dry manner. Another thing that didn’t quite fit with the show was the choice of music. Music, in cinema and television, can be a brilliant tool used to create atmosphere, emotion, tone and suspense. The right score can make a bad scene good, a good scene great and a great scene brilliant, if the music is used correctly (for an example, see my review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Music can just as easily hurt a scene by creating conflicting tones or distracting viewers. House of Lies fills its background score with a hybrid techno sound that does not fit the show. The music creates a tone that doesn’t fit the characters and only serves to distract from the content of the show.
Despite my rants and critiques, the show certainly has some potential. Though it wasn’t as funny as I had hoped, it still had a number of humorous scenes. The groundwork of a great show is there, I just hope that the groundwork can find a footing on the show’s shaky foundation. With some development, the characters could easily go from flat to full blown interesting characters. The crazy drama that Showtime is known for is also there, waiting to explode. Sexual tension lingers on the team, especially (though poorly) between Kaan (Cheadle) and Jeannie (Bell). Kaan’s ex-wife is a pill addicted shark of a consultant who works for the only firm ranked higher than Kaan’s. The characters are all quite quirky, which holds promise that each has an odd background drama to add to the show. Overall, I give the first episode of House of Lies a 5 out of 10. I will continue to watch the show, if only because it airs right after Shameless and promise to keep readers posted (pun only partially intended). Though I found many problems with the show, I really hope that my first impressions are wrong and that the show will build to yet another, amazing Showtime hit.