House of Lies (Sundays at 10:00 on Showtime; premieres January 8)
Showtime has had an incredible track record of late, rivaling (even surpassing, depending on who you ask) that of fellow premium network adversary HBO. Their new drama Homeland was a critic darling this fall and is already making the awards show rounds; The Big C and Nurse Jackie continue to dominate "must see" lists; Dexter's audience grew immensely throughout its most recent (fifth) season; and Weeds was recently renewed for an eighth season, making it the network's longest-running series ever. So they're rolling out a new round of programming in 2012, beginning with the comedy House of Lies.
House of Lies is about Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle), a self-hating and manipulative management consultant, and his co-workers. They work for one of the best consulting firms in the country, and they stop at nothing to win clients and earn their seven figure salaries. Marty must also deal with his ex-wife (Dawn Olivieri), a drug-addicted consultant for a rival firm and the mother of his son; his father (Glynn Turman), a former psychiatrist who takes care of things while Mary is away on business; and his son (Donis Leonard Jr.), a flamboyant and possibly transgendered theatre kid.
Right off the bat, House of Lies isn't very funny, at least not in a laugh-out-loud way. The humor is a bit darker, a bit more subversive. The pilot's strongest moments revolve around this type of humor, and they typically involve the quirky supporting cast; Olivieri's character is especially funny in a horrifying way as the world's worst mother. That's when the show has some spark. Otherwise, it's relatively standard and even dull. The constant pause/cutaway technique employed in which Cheadle directly addresses the camera is 1) not funny, 2) inconsistent and 3) overused. The first example of this comes about one minute into the premiere and lasts for only a few seconds, when Marty says, "Never fuck your ex-wife." The rest of the cutaways have to do with his business, so I'm not sure exactly what purpose they serve: advice? private thoughts? boring inner monologues?
The supporting cast is criminally underused in this first episode. Kristen Bell has but a few lines, none of which are funny, and the same goes for Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson as the remainder of Marty's team. No one makes any sort of impression (I can't even remember their names) because no one is given anything to do, other than Cheadle. He's a great actor, no doubt, and he can easily do both funny and poignant. But carrying a show with an already-dull premise of management consultants might prove to be too much for him, if his borderline-lackluster performance in the pilot is any indication. Donis Leonard Jr. fares the best of everyone in this episode; he has the most fascinating character (a young boy who dresses and acts like a girl) and the most charming scenes. But it's a waste of talent to have gifted comedians like Bell and Schwartz on your show and then to not showcase their abilities.
My biggest issue with House of Lies is that it's just not all that interesting. It's entertaining enough to fill 25 minutes, but it's not something that left me caring to watch again. Management consulting is (apparently, from what I gathered in this episode) a boring profession, and Marty is a relatively boring character. The self-hating, blase womanizer has been done to death, including by House of Lies' partner series Californication. What's the point of doing it again? Creator Matthew Carnahan (who also did the short-lived Courtney Cox series Dirt) doesn't have anything new to say, nor does he have an interesting way in which to say it.