There's a good show somewhere inside House of Lies. There simply has to be when the cast includes an Oscar nominee (Don Cheadle), the guy who started Entertainment 720 with Tom Haverford (Ben Schwartz) and Veronica Mars herself (Kristen Bell).
But I had two main gripes with the series premiere of this dark comedy:
1. The instances of Cheadle's Marty Kahn freezing the action to speak to the camera. Granted, I enjoyed this gimmick when Zach Morris employed it on Saved by the Bell. But that was only because I could stare at Kelly Kapowski for a few seconds. Also, I was 10 years old.
I fail to see the point of it on House of Lies. It's not funny, and it's actually a bit insulting. It dumbs the action down for the audience, while grinding the show's pace to a halt. Take the example of Marty stopping just to explain the concept of getting "counseled out." It means "fired" in the world of management consulting, apparently. Okay. Great.
Why couldn't the series let viewers learn this organically through the episode? I'm not someone who wants to be told by a character what is happening or what something translate to. I'd much rather be dropped into a world with which I'm not familiar and figure it out as I go.
That's what great dramas such as The West Wing do. Josh Lyman never stopped during a rant and spelled out the rules of Congress to fans. We watched and learned and felt as if we were integrated into a foreign, interesting universe in the process. That's simply what good writing accomplishes.
2. The attempt to be edgy. I'm all for sex and nudity. Really, I am. But it seemed gratuitous here, especially the random scene where Marty's fake wife got it on in the bathroom with the real wife of the executive at dinner.
And this development actually went on to play a key role in the team eventually landing that executive's company as a client! Just very odd and out of nowhere and certainly difficult to believe. Relying on women kissing to grab a viewer's attention isn't the sign of a confident series.
The episode ends, of course, with an attempt to ground Marty as a deeply troubled, possibly depressed individual. And it's possible we learn more about him as time goes on that justified this perception.
For now, though, the closing profound moment didn't feel impactful or earned, considering it followed 25 minutes of outlandish, guilt free behavior. But I've always enjoyed Cheadle and I've been waiting years for Bell to have another starring role. I'm happy to give House of Lies a chance. I just hope it gives me a chance to sit back and enjoy it, without the interruption of a condescending main character every few minutes.