House Of Lies Cheadle

January 10, 2012 by staff 

House Of Lies Cheadle, If we’re willing to root for a pot-selling mom in Weeds and a narcissistic alcoholic in Shameless, can we possibly identify with a conniving, cutthroat management consultant that appears to have only money and sex on his mind?

Showtime looks to pose that question with their latest antihero dark comedy, House of Lies (“HOL”), starring the incomparable Don Cheadle and based on the Martin Kihn book, House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time.

HOL ventures into the wild and sxy world of Management Consulting (who knew?), where conniving, fast-talking sharks use quick wit and spreadsheets to make naïve executives dependent on their manipulative, shady advice. This hardly sums up the profession, but HOL does achieve a level of hyperbole and cynicism about overall corporate greed that will either be entertaining for people in the know or infuriating for those who believe industry titans are the root of all evil. I suppose this premise is enough to build a series around, but only if it presents us with characters we can identify with. By the end of the pilot, I can’t say that I’m yet a fan of any of the show’s would be heroes.

First, there’s Marty Kaan (Cheadle), a partner at the fictitious Galweather & Stearn firm and a smooth-talking ladies’ man that has dysfunction all around him. In case you haven’t guessed, he’s in the business of slick-talking people for his own selfish benefit. Whether it’s the wallets of clients or the panties of strippers, he’s getting into someone’s pants at the end of the day.

He’s got one hot pill-popping ex-wife in Monica (The Vampire Diaries’ Dawn Olivieri), who does double duty as his sex buddy and business-world nemesis (a partner at rival consulting firm, Kinsley – yes, it sounds like McKinsey). Their love-hate relationship knows no bounds and there’s no doubt that copious amounts of hate sex is on the menu for these two (prepare yourself for an exceptionally gratuitous session in episode 2). Strangely, Monica is sharp enough to binge on drugs and wake up and be one of the sharpest consultants in the game. Go figure.

Then there’s Kaan’s colleagues, Jeannie (the always cute Kristen Bell), Clyde (Ben Schwartz) and Doug (Josh Lawson) who make up his project team and find a way to argue at just about every juncture. Bell’s wit and personality will certainly go a long way here, though the clichéd sexual tension between her and Marty has the potential of dragging her character down. Otherwise, she’s sharp and the necessary rational person in this collection of self-serving misfits.

At home, Marty is ‘grounded’ by his cross-dressing son with Monica, Roscoe (Donis Leonard, Jr.) and his old school father Jeremiah (Glynn Turman). It’s not clear at this point if Rosco is transgender for the sake of humor (it’s not really funny here) or if he’s in place simply to humanize Marty. After all, Roscoe’s mother detests that he’s ‘a tranny’, whereas Marty is more understanding and merely sees it simply as an experimentation phase (at least that’s how he defends his son, though secretly he’s disappointed in his lifestyle).

The first episode has our Los Angeles based consulting team traveling to New York, to help the executives of corrupt firm MetroCapital avert a customer crisis and cash out their bonuses. This proves to be easier said than done as Monica’s firm is also booked on the project. Even more, Marty decides to bring a stripper to a big dinner meeting with the client.

Treating consulting as if it’s rocket science, HOL pauses every so often for fourth-wall breaking pauses, which Kaan uses to explain industry jargon like “counseled-out” (just so everyone on the other side of the screen knows that he’s talking about getting fired). For the most part, this technique is overused and without impact since explanatory dialogue is seldom necessary.

What remains to be seen is if the oft-likeable Cheadle can make Kaan both funny and endearing. We see glimpses of this in his relationship with his son (extra points for the Halo Reach session with him at the end), but ultimately Kaan is going to have to be someone the viewer can be sympathetic to. It’s hard to get behind him when he justifies his job only because it makes him a seven figure salary and when his rally-cry to his teammates is “let’s get this money.” To make things worse, he actually wins the client’s business by convincing them of a way to screw the common man – a message that is so insensitive to what’s going on in the real world that I’m surprised the writers went with it.

Someone also needs to tell the writers that subtle can also be funny. In several instances, the show goes to great, outlandish lengths to garner laughs, only to come up short. The lsbn scene in the restaurant followed by it’s ‘squirter’ conclusion was especially heavy-handed and out of place, as if people wouldn’t watch if you didn’t give them something lewd to talk about at the water cooler in the morning. If HOL continues to employ this type of shtick, it will be nothing more than a bad Saturday Night Live skit that airs on cable.

I will say that HOL has great potential given its cast, mainly with Cheadle and Bell doing a lot of the heavy lifting. If it achieves the right balance of cynicism and subtle humor and can add a few layers of depth to Marty beyond his adeptness at swindling clients and bedding women, then House of Lies may be able to fit in nicely in Showtime’s stable of curiously funny antihero comedies.

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