House of Lies: Amsterdam/Microphallus

I’ll be honest with you folks. To me, House of Lies had its moments (and some clever ones, at that) but wasn’t really strong enough to merit a weekly writeup.

But all that has changed.

“What is this change?” you ask. Has some incredible new development occurred on the show? Were episodes two and three heartily recommended to me by every one of my family members and friends? Did I get a high-paying job for Showtime and now I’m a corporate shill?

In reality, the truth is so much more exciting than any of those things.

Except that… it’s not. I just wanted something to write about on Sunday nights.

Fooled ya, huh.

If you’re not too upset about my pulling the wool over your eyes, then it’s probably in your best interests to press “Continue Reading.”

So my thing with House of Lies is that it’s very inconsistent in a very weird way. To demonstrate that, I shall now divide episodes two and three into three specific categories of “stuff.”

1. Consulting Stuff

This here is what the meat and potatoes of House of Lies should be (what actually constitues this show’s meat and potatoes is something I’ll get to later). The main characters are all consultants. A new job for their firm drives each episode. And the fact that these characters are all such big-money types is what gives everyone an inflated ego and an equally-inflated sense of cool.

Unfortunately, the actual consulting on this show never really means that much. Mostly what we get in House of Lies is Cheadle & Co. discussing some kind of jargon-laden, tech-specific thing that no one could possibly understand, then Cheadle says the jargon doesn’t actually matter, and then he manipulates whoever his client is into doing the thing that gets Cheadle the most money.

This CAN work. The actual resolution of Microphallus (I feel very uncomfortable typing that word)  is pretty clever- it looks like Cheadle (yes, his character’s name is Marty Kaan, but that last name is very peculiar and I’ve already gotten into the habit of typing Don Cheadle, so Don Cheadle it will stay) is actually sacrificing a successful deal for some kind of moral standpoint, but in the end he’s just trying to screw over his clients and sell them to Pepsi because that gets him the most cash.

I like that. Having a protagonist that cares more about money than anything else is a neat idea and feels fairly unique. Also, the stopping-time-to-break-the-fourth-wall stuff actually starts to pick up here, especially so in Microphallus (ugh). Once Cheadle breaks out the red marker, I was finally sold on that whole idea. Freeze-frame stuff like that is a visual trick, so the more creative visual elements you add on, the more concrete it becomes. Now then, on to our next category:

2. Witty Banter Stuff

This where House of Lies really shines (the meat and potatoes I spoke of earlier). Throughout both Amsterdam and Microphallus we get plenty of great little moments where Cheadle and his gang of cronies cast zingers about in a delightful fashion. The group egging on Doug while he tries and fails to ask out Cat Deeley. Cheadle and Kristen Bell watching in rapt attention as the gang role-plays a more successful strategy for said asking out of Cat Deeley. All of the conversations directly before and after that weird sex scene at the CFO’s house.

House of Lies only really shines when it feels relaxed. When there’s not as much strain from the storyline and when it stops trying so hard to be mediocrely funny, House of Lies feels fun and fresh. And when I say “trying so hard to be mediocrely funny,” I mean:

Every joke involving the transvestite.

The uncomfortable opening sex scene of Amsterdam.

The bizarre and totally predictable weird sex scenes at the CFO’s house.

And so on. Basically, whenever House of Lies tries to add any kind of  crazy sex joke it ends up falling flat on its face. And speaking of falling flat on one’s face, may I present the third varietal of “stuff:”

3. Shoehorned-in Dramatic Stuff

This is what’s just flat-out bad about House of Lies. There’s not a whole lot of overarching plot elements in Amsterdam, but Microphallus just packs this stuff in to the point where it nearly kills the whole damn episode. I don’t want to spend too much time on this subject, as my brain is starting to ache, but I’ll give you a quick rundown.

  • Cheadle’s dream about his dead mother and subsequent conversation with his father comes out of nowhere and feels very forced.
  • I like the idea of Cheadle’s son potentially being bisexual, but just having the son straight-up ask Cheadle what it means to like both girls and boys lacks even the tiniest hint of subtlety. Sexuality (especially at such a young age) is such an uncomfortable and complicated subject that it makes no sense for a son to just blurt that out without one single iota of discomfort or trepidation.
  • Cheadle’s relationship with Skip (his boss) suddenly taking a turn for the worse has no emotional impact at all because we’ve barely met Skip and have no idea what his and Cheadle’s relationship was supposed to be like in the first place.
  • And finally, that last scene with Cheadle recklessly driving off into the night was one gigantic, badly acted cliche.

All that aside, I’m starting to enjoy House of Lies a little more at this point. I have no idea going into an episode what aspects I’m gonna like and which I’m gonna hate, which is actually kind of an enjoyable experience in a weird way. Hopefully reviewing it will be this much fun next week.

See you all next time!

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4 responses to “House of Lies: Amsterdam/Microphallus

  1. I’m not too sure about watching many upcoming TV shows, and House of Lies looked pretty strange to me. I’m interested in the upcoming Luck, but the next show I’m really looking forward for is the return of Mad Men.

    • Yeah, it’s kind of a strange show. It’s not really something I’d recommend unless there’s something here that really draws you- Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell or consulting, I guess.

      Although I can’t really think of anyone who’d watch a show solely because it was about consulting.

  2. I actually like House of Lies, and thought the consulting stuff was pretty funny. I mean, I like how they keep joking that no one knows exactly what it is, because isn’t that really the truth? I love the scenes with Kristen Bell and Don Cheadle trying to figure each other out. I am, however, also looking forward to the return of Mad Men.

    • On the one hand, it is a clever conceit that as consultants, all the characters really do is bullshit people, but I worry about how far they can take that without running out of ideas. And Cheadle and Bell definitely have some chemistry.

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