House of Lies: Advance Pilot

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.

Boom. Linkified.

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.


19 responses to “House of Lies: Advance Pilot

  1. Thx for the review. Been trying to figure out why all these shows on HBO, Showtime, etc. have to be ‘edgy’ by throwing sex and nudity at the audience. Whatever happened to a good story and acting?

    • It’s odd how much that stuff crops up on pay cable channels just because they’re the only ones that can show that kind of stuff. Even shows that are very well scripted and acted (Game of Thrones, I’m lookin’ at you) still tend to put a whole bunch of nudity in just for nudity’s sake.

      • I agree not all shows need the nudity, but I didn’t mind one bit when it was Spartacus though!! That show definitely gave all us thirty-something women at work something to drool about…oops…I mean talk about.

    • My thoughts exactly. TV is such a wasteland. The bodies of actors are exploited just to try to lure viewers into watching. But we live in such a sex-saturated culture now that it doesn’t really work any more. Instead of switching tactics, they just pile on more and more sex. Boring and gross.

      • I both agree and disagree with your statements here (sorry, I couldn’t resist)- on the one hand, I absolutely agree that, rather then come up with something compelling to drive people to watch, a lot of television shows just pile on the sex in dull, uncreative ways (True Blood is a huuuuuuge offender in that category). However, I’d hesitate to say TV is a wasteland- this overabundance of sex is found almost everywhere in society. Music, film, internet culture, and really, life in this century has become somewhat oversexed- I wouldn’t apply that moniker solely to TV.

        Thanks for your comment though! I love a good TV discussion.

  2. My main issue with this show is the Consulting Firm. In the first episode they seem to help a multi-billion dollar company rip off thousands of people, is that what happened or did I fall asleep for a few crucial minutes? If that is the case, I’m not sure I want to watch a show about people who love their kids, have relationship issues, witty banter with their co-workers over coffee and then go and happily destroy peoples lives to help the rich get richer and pocket a hefty sum for themselves.

    • That’s actually a good point that didn’t really sink in for me- I got the impression from some of Cheadle’s monologues that they were a ‘steal from the rich ’cause they’re so rich already’ kind of firm, but then, like you said, the exact opposite happens.


  3. I completely agree with everything you say here. For me, the main problem was that I just didn’t find it all that clever. I expected smart bantering and clever sleights of hand—none of that happened in the pilot. Which isn’t to say I think the pilot sucked, just that it disappointed me—perhaps I had too high expectations? I do want to check out the next couple of episodes to better judge the show, but the pilot didn’t impress me–or leave a lasting impression.

    • After the pilot, the show starts improving and also getting much worse- the banter and the time-stop fourth wall stuff actually starts to get fun around episode three, but at around that same time they start shoehorning in all of these terrible dramatic subplots. Odd.

    • Thank you so much for the compliment!

      And you could even say that I’m the hero television deserves, but not the one it needs right now. And that they’ll hunt me because I can take it. Because I’m not your hero. I’m a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.

      I’d like to think that’s an apt description.

  4. Thanks for the review. Noted the thread on King of Thrones in the comments, which saved itself from its excessive nudity in the pilot. Maybe House of Lies will do the same. I’ll wait for you to check it out first.

    • Yeah, There is a ton of nudity in Game of Thrones and it often feels excessive and a little forced, but that show has fantastic production design and cinematography and acting and all those good things. House of Lies just doesn’t have enough in its “good” column yet.

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