House of Lies Review: Making Like Zack Morris

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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:

The House of Lies Team

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.


Editor Rating: 3.7 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.3 / 5.0 (64 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.


Maybe the freeze-frame explanations are an artifact from the narrative nature of the book (which I haven't read)? Personally, I hate dialog that I have to later look-up in the urban dictionary or the like. But as an IT guy, I recognize firsthand, that we consultants do utilize titillating or provocative language which masks hidden agenda. I think I read somewhere HOL's been given the nod for a 2nd season. I'll keep watching.


I have to agree completely with the reviewer. I guess I thought I would enjoy it more than I did! But the instances where Don Cheadle speaks to the camera was simply put - annoying! All of those excess sex/nudity scenes were really not necessary. Seemed a bit superfluous to me. I know it's trying to be edgy, but I just don't know if the writers quite have it yet. I feel like this could possibly develop into something good, so I might stick around for a few more episodes. But I can't make any promises.


guess I'm not too picky- found it very entertaining. Cheadle is just magnetic.


@Alex Roggio "And why the hell did Kristen Bell's character want to get lapdances? Is she a secret lesbian as well?" I'm girl and I've been to male and female strip clubs before. I've gotten lap dances at both places. I think girls in general are more inclined to not view sexuality so rigidly based on how we are socialized (to be affectionate with lovers, best friends, friends, what have you). If that makes every girl you see dancing with their friends at a party a closet lesbian... then I think your view on sexuality is a bit basic. I didn't hate the show. The freeze frame bits will get old. I prefer the fouthwall erected and impregnable when it comes to my teevee. I think the show has potential. And I find his ex-wife hilarious.


I didn't think it was possible to make a bad show starring Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell. Somehow, Showtime managed to do it. House of Lies is AWFUL. I barely made it through the half-hour premiere. "Smug" and "vapid" were the first two words that came to mind. It wants to be smart and edgy, but the writing just isn't there. Here is an idea: Let Bell reboot Veronica Mars instead.


I agree with Alex...I was very disappointed in the first episode. I had been talking about and looking forward to watching the show a couple of weeks prior to the premier. I have not watched any particular series on TV for a while and thought I would finally have interest in one. I'm a big fan of Kristen Bell, and expected a totally different concept. As Siskel and Ebert would say, "2 Thumbs Down" for now at least. I'll give it another shot and watch a second episode just to see if anything about the show interests me, aside from the sex!


I thought (hoped?) the stop action might let up in time. It seems like it could just be a device to get the audience read into the back story.


Frankly, I was bored. The one thing I most hated about the show was the pausing and dumbing down for the audience. No matter what anyone says, I don't think I'll ever get accustomed to that. Not only that, but the show was all over the place. What was the point of the strip bar scene? And the lesbian scene? None of it had anything to do with the episode. I know the stripper was directly involved in getting Cheadle a dinner date, but I would have preferred the few minutes dedicated to the stripper montage be dedicated to introducing her character instead. And why the hell did Kristen Bell's character want to get lapdances? Is she a secret lesbian as well? This show is very dumb. I might watch the second episode hoping for it to get better, but if it doesn't, I will stop watching it altogether. This first episode gets a 2.5 out of 5 from me. I'm not as generous as you.


I like the premise, but I feel like the show tried too hard in its pilot. Plus, it missed opportunities to sell the audience on the pod by replacing "pod dynamic time" with the long restaurant scene. They were set up to be the "underdogs" why was it so hard to root for them?!

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