‘House of Lies’ Is Amazing On The Economic Meltdown — But Not On Everything Else

I’ll be recapping House of Lies, but I also reviewed the show for The Atlantic. And if you’re considering whether or not to tune in to the Sunday premiere, this should convince you:

House of Lies is at its best when it focuses specifically on the grotesqueness and desperation of the one percent, a subject that management consulting is uniquely poised to explore. “These guys are just looking for a way to justify their bonuses,” one of Doug’s junior team members tells him as they walk through the airport on the way to their first assignment. “And why shouldn’t they?” Marty wants to know. “Because they robbed the American public of billions of dollars by selling them bad mortgages,” his coworker Jeannie (a charming but underused Kristen Bell) tells him. And true to form, Greg Norbert, an executive at fictional mortgage giant MetroCapital, complains that people are unjustly angry at the company for giving them what they wanted in a boom, suggesting that underwater homeowners “cowboy the fuck up.”…

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After the assignment at MetroCapital, Greg Norbert appears again, this time to set into motion the season’s major plot arc: MetroCapital’s attempt to acquire the firm Marty and his team work for so the mortgage company can have in-house consultants rather than hiring outsiders. “After you left, we felt sad,” Greg tells Marty, who had hoped not to see Greg again after a sublimely awkward business dinner. “No, not really. But we had all this bailout money.” That last line sums up one of the most off-putting things about the economic crisis and recovery we’ve been living through since 2008: The people substantially responsible for our current peril ended up with a lot of money and remain unrepentant.

For those of you who were curious about how the show would handle Cheadle’s character’s gender-variant son, the answer is also very well, in a way that gets beyond the supportive-parent/unsupportive parent dichotomy to examine the actual hurts and compromises parents of gay and non-gender conforming parents make every day. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the show knows that these are the things it has going for it best. There’s a lot of semi-standard cable debauchery, something I’m getting increasingly sick of: risque sex talk is not inherently meaningful. And not all the clients are equally interesting or offer equal opportunity for commentary on the economy. But Cheadle is very good. Kristen Bell is very good. And I’m kind of glad to see management consulting go under the microscope.