So, after numerous forays into the world of film, I’m jumping back to my small-screen roots for an advance review of Showtime’s newest edgy, butt-centric half hour program, House of Lies.
Showtime put the pilot up early on Youtube for everyone to enjoy- I’ll link-ify that sucker right after the ‘Continue Reading’ button.
So I’ve been letting this pilot stew in my head for a day or so, and usually by the one-day mark I know exactly how I’m gonna take on the review, but with House of Lies, there’s nothing in my brain. Nothing. Just a blank, empty smudge with Don Cheadle’s face on it.
So instead of thinking about the pilot itself, I’ve been mulling over my reaction (or lack thereof) to the show, and it looks like it just didn’t make much of an impression on me. Which would be a problem, as nearly every moment in House of Lies is about making a big, humongous, occasionally pompous, super-cool badass impression on everybody.
The problem is, House of Lies tries to be all cool, all the time, and while it actually has a decent bag of visual and plot-related tricks to up the coolness ante, none of them are really implemented that well.
Take the nudity. There’s plenty of nudity here. Like, a ton. Especially for a half an hour (technically thirty-four minutes, but whatever) show. And for all this nudity, the only time it actually feels natural is in that butt-filled opening sequence when a nude Don Cheadle quickly dresses his drunk, similarly nude ex, which has a little bit of an exciting, goofy rush to it. After that, it all just feels like nudity for nudity’s sake. Everybody goes to a strip club. Yeah, show some nudity, I guess. Bathroom sex scene? Sure, why not (technically, there’s no nudity in this scene, but A: I thought there was, at first, and B: It still feels like the show’s just throwing a whole bunch of sex in every scene to seem edgy).
And one last point while I’m here- the words “See what you’re missing- order Showtime now” pop up right as Don Cheadle’s hind parts get edited out in that first scene, and I, for one, question Showtime’s decision to assume viewers would subscribe to months of pay cable just for a brief glimpse at Don Cheadle’s ass. Not that I’m bad-mouthing Cheadle- he’s a terrific actor, someone who’s strong in both comedy and drama. And I bet his ass is just great. Not that I saw it.
But enough on that subject. Well, sort of. During the ‘gratuitous nudity at the strip club’ scene, there were a whole bunch of sharp, quick cuts- a simple but flashy way to show the characters had a lot of crazy, party-hardy hijinks in a short period of time. And I thought back to the scene towards the beginning with our main characters putting their stuff through airport security- again, we had fast, choppy cuts designed to make these people and their awesome briefcases and junk seem expensive and important. What rubbed off on me, though is that in both of these examples the actual photography of the quick cuts was kind of… bland, I guess. And it gave off the impression that someone had a great idea to make these people seem very hip and fast-paced and high-energy, but that something fell through in the execution.
And really, that’d be the one thing I’d take away from House of Lies. Good ideas, mediocre execution. For example, having Cheadle’s character break the fourth wall to talk directly to us could have been a nice, stylish punch to his character. Instead, every time this happens all he ever does is describe counseling jargon while generic ten-year old drum sounds play, and I can’t help but feel like I’m watching a how-to video I got from my local public library.
There are, of course, a lot of things the pilot does do right, but for the most part everything in the good column is a small aside or scene. Seeing the new guy who’s sleeping with Cheadle’s wife gave me a good laugh. Same with almost anything from Josh Lawson’s character. And the moment where Cheadle chews out his son’s teacher to get him the role in Grease actually had a decent amount of emotional weight behind it- seeing the stress of Cheadle struggling to understand his son and struggling with his latest client all converge on the teacher’s head was a nice emotional moment. By far, the strongest thing this pilot has going for it is the father/son/grandfather dynamic. Plus having Glynn Turman (of The Wire fame) as Grandpa Jeremiah doesn’t hurt.
And really, even though I found more bad than good in House of Lies, everything I disliked is something the show can easily turn around. Shows change in early episodes all the time. So I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open, House of Lies. You may not be much now (in this reviewer’s humble opinion), but in time you could be fun and brisk and stylish and all the things you want to be.
Now go. Go back to the gentle yonder from whence you came.