Saturday, January 18, 2014

HOUSE OF LIES Begins to Emerge From the "Wreckage"

Article first published as HOUSE OF LIES Begins to Emerge From the "Wreckage" on TheTVKing.

Showtime's House of Lies premiere had a lot to address. When season two closed last year, The Pod had split apart, with the characters all on the outs with one another. Now, as some time has passed, the episode must catch up with each of the four, and give them all arcs to start things out on.

I love that "Wreckage," the first episode back, doesn't restore the status quo. It would be inauthentic for The Pod to easily come back together, either at their old firm or at Marty's (Don Cheadle) new one, though other shows do it all the time. Instead, this week shows where each of the individuals have ended up, and how unhappy they are with the situation, missing their former colleagues. Which means they probably will reunite, just not in episode one.

At least Marty's home life is going well so he's not fighting a battle on both fronts. A sweet scene between Marty, his son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.), and his father, Jeremiah (Glynn Turman), seems light and fun, especially compared to the rest of the half hour. Surely Marty can find some comfort in that.

Marty may just be the most miserable of the quartet. It's hard to tell because he's so good at hiding his feelings. On a trip to China to woo the head of a mid-size company (Daniel Stern, Home Alone), something that would have been beneath Marty at his height, he seems quite unimpressed with his new team (Ryan Gaul, Rob Gleeson, and Genevieve Angelson). But he's also resigned to them. This Marty is not too proud to claw his way back up to the top, even as he's definitely nowhere near that point at the start. He's broken, but not defeated.

Marty later tries to change his circumstance by forming an alliance with Jeannie (Kristen Bell). This could be good for business, two competitors working the competing companies they represent together, pushing both for more. However, in this instance, it seems more that Marty just wants to be with Jeannie. Otherwise, why not go for the bigger fish himself? At least Jeannie seems amenable, which means Marty didn't completely burn the bridge with her.

The relationship between Marty and Jeannie is key to House of Lies. Sure, the chemistry of the foursome is important, but these two share something more than that. They are the emotion-laden island in the middle of all the craziness. They have feelings for one another that may or may not turn into something real (my guess is they will), and Marty cares about her as so much more than the job she does, which is less obvious in how he treats the guys. Plus, if Marty can win Jeannie back to The Pod, the other two will follow easily enough, whether he wants them to or not.

Jeannie isn't in a bad place, professionally, but she doesn't seem happy. Working at her old job, leading a pod consisting of Doug (Josh Lawson) and some newbies (Brad Schmidt and Lauren Lapkus), she comes across as numb and disinterested. All three of these people are pretty annoying, Doug constantly talking about their glory days, and that could be what is bringing Jeannie down. But Doug was always annoying before, so it's more likely what she doesn't have that's affecting her, rather than what she does have.

I said before that Marty has it worse than anyone else, but it's possible that Clyde (Ben Schwartz) might edge him out. Working for Monica (Dawn Olivieri) turns out to be the hilarious hell viewers might have expected, and her management style sabotages any alliances Clyde might form with his new co-workers (Eugene Cordero and Milana Vayntrub). I think Clyde realizes this is an untenable position that he can't stay in, and will likely be the first of the main players to try to make a switch.

Clyde has always seemed cooler than cool, like nothing can upset him. Even as we realize that's an act, one must respect the way he plays the game, something that should serve him well. Seeing the frustration and disbelief on his face in "Wreckage" proves there are situations that can tip Clyde's balance, and there's new material for the talented Schwartz to chew in this premiere, which is welcome.

Nearly all of these new characters mentioned above have familiar faces, but likely no name recognition. Some of them were in House of Lies Live, and it's good to see them again. Others have been working the comedy scene, occasionally popping up in sitcoms. It's excellent that House of Lies gives this class of people work because they are often under-utlized on TV, and I think "Wreckage" proves there is fresh talent out there.

I don't know that any of them will prove lasting on this series, though. Any one of them could, but by necessity, the three pods as they exist now cannot last. And serving another seven new characters just isn't tenable. So sadly their presence will be short-lived, but at least they are all, across the board, making the best use of the time they have.

House of Lies has set up an interesting third year. Catch it Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime, and if you missed the first episode, it's currently streaming free on Showtime's website.

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