This post contains spoilers through the pilot of House of Lies.
So, this show. As I wrote in my review of this show, I think it basically think this show has a “When she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid” problem compounded by the fact that it doesn’t seem totally clear to the folks running it (though I will ask them later this week) what the strongest parts of House of Lies are. And so we have the gamut tonight of the awesomeness of the team’s evil pitch to MetroCapital, and the awfulness of That Scene in the restaurant.
The good stuff first. I think House of Lies will end up being a really fascinating test of how far our tolerance for anti-heroes can go. It’s one thing to get emotionally invested in Tony Soprano or Walter White, because even though their acts are heinous, there’s an almost-zero chance that we’ll ever come into contact with anyone like them. There is a vastly less-than-zero chance that we know people who have been deeply affected by the economic downturn. And depending on where you went to school, there’s also a chance that you know a whole bunch of management consultants. So are we willing to tolerate realistic awful acts in our entertainment? Will we be entertained by Marty and company, and do very little about their real-life counterparts? Will we turn away from both in disgust? Or will House of Lies drive more of us to the 99 percent movement? The MetroCapital stuff is so blunt, and so believable, and it’s a reminder to interrogate the motivations of corporate do-gooderism.
I also really like Marty’s home life. There’s something kind of powerful at a time when the networks can’t put out a show centered on a black family, and when we’re awash in ridiculous conversations about the pathology of black men, to see a program that takes for granted the idea that a white audience will tune in to watch a three-man black family do its thing. Glynn Turman can pretty much do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned, and I enjoy watching him go from Mayor Royce to a retired-therapist semi-hippie. And I think Donis Leonard Jr. is doing a nice job as Roscoe, a role that could be super-cliche but that feels human because of his relative blitheness. I also really appreciate the fact that the show is telling a story about a child that doesn’t have a parent be pure evil or saintly. Parents of gay or trans kids aren’t perfect. They make compromises. They make mistakes. Capturing that and encouraging people to keep working at it, rather than castigating themselves for or shutting down over making mistakes, is an important cultural message.
But his sex life, and the general treatment of women in the movie? They’re…less than inspiring. It’s not purely that I think his behavior is unattractive, though it can be funny, as when the stripper Marty picks up tells him “None of my customers have ever fallen in love with me or projected any crazy shit on me!” only to have him exclaim gleefully “I’m going to be the first!” It’s more that it’s cliche, and at times underdeveloped. If Marty’s wife is such an addict and poor decision-maker, what makes her so stellar at her job, good enough that Marty is afraid of losing clients to her? How does she balance those personas? Or perhaps more accurately, how are the writers going to integrate them? Then there’s Greg’s wife, who feels like she exists only to act wildly inappropriate in public rather than to be a person with actual motivations and a sense of how to live in society.
And I love me some Kristen Bell, but successful ladies with fertility anxiety was the dominant romantic comedy theme of 2011, and it doesn’t feel fresh or an actual gateway into Jeannie here. It would have been awesome to see some actual connection between her business psychology studies and the final presentation, but we don’t really see the process. It’s an example of a show that often skips from A to Z without showing us, or even really knowing, how the characters would get to all the places in between.