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‘House of Lies’ Seeks a Darker and More Developed Range of Characters

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The always exemplary Phoebe Raven, who is out this week, has been less than impressed with the slate of Showtime original series that have permeated the airwaves. She’s succinctly dubbed their lineup the “Train Wreck Human Beings Club” and that’s a true statement. The question then becomes, why do audiences watch these shows? I wanted to discuss the series House of Lies, a show Phoebe has cited as sexist and misogynist, and it is. But as a female, I do watch this show every week without fail. Why? Because of my love of nostalgia and awful people. If you didn’t read Phoebe’s original article on House of Lies, which also details the plot of the series, I recommend doing so by reading the original article here.

House of Lies is a show that can’t connect with everyone. The story of Marty Khan (Don Cheadle) and his group of management consultants is filled with dense plots that generally revolve around sex and debauchery and is far from perfect. In fact I don’t know all of the characters names and the core plot of the merger between the two consultant firms is pretty boring. I watch this for the actors and the moments of humanity that have blossomed in recent episodes.

Fans of the show should agree that the constant double-crossing between companies and the “on the road” storylines are not where the true action is at. In the last few episode we’ve settled down and focused on characters, where we should have started from episode one. In recent episodes the series has shifted focus away from the “city a day” plots in favor of exploring Marty’s custody battle with his deranged ex-wife Monica (Dawn Oliveri) and his relationship with his son Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.). The way Marty has juggled his relationship with his son is messy, and it’s only in realizing he will lose his child that Marty has become a human being. Alongside this story is the relationship he’s been trying to cultivate with a former one-night stand named April (Megalyn Echikunwoke). The two started out as “no strings attached” friend with benefits and their relationship has blossomed into what seemed to be domestic bliss. Watching Marty try to make a relationship work for himself and his son was touching, and also challenged Marty to become a better person, at least in the privacy of his own home.

In last night’s episode “Prologue and Aftermath” we finally saw Marty screw up his relationship with April by having sex with Monica. The show started out with its subversive heart on its sleeve, and last night’s episode placed Marty in a dark place. He struggled to keep things together (and in his pants), but had to face the fact that being a shark for so long has made him incapable of love. Audiences saw darkness and genuine consequences to one’s actions, something that is rare in a Showtime series. Compare this to Shameless’ current season where the characters are almost exactly the same, and in some instances, once benevolent characters are turning to murder and yet are supposed to remain “endearing.” I watch both series’ for the actors but recently, House of Lies has turned a corner to show the other side of what being manipulative all the time gets you.

In Phoebe’s article she also mentioned the misogyny and sexist nature of the series. As a woman I’ve found that House of Lies hasn’t been sexist…it just shows women who are just as ruthless as men. Don’t get me wrong, Monica is a sleazy, despicable person. To me, I find the ruthless nature of Jeannie (Kristen Bell) to be compelling. Again, last night’s episode finally gave some insight into Jeannie’s nature as we learned of her beauty queen past and her mysterious daddy issues. Originally, the show presented Jeannie sleeping with the firm’s head honcho known as “The Rainmaker” (Griffin Dunne) as a means of getting ahead, instead with the knowledge gained in last night’s episode, we’ve seen its part of a far darker part of Jeannie’s past. Before that though I applauded the presentation of a confident woman trying to get to the top of the heap through means that didn’t include sleeping her way to the top. When Jeannie did finally have sex with The Rainmaker, it was after turning down far smaller sexual favors.

House of Lies isn’t the best show I’ve ever watched, and I only gave it a shot because of my 6-year-old crush on Griffin Dunne (sandbox crushes never die!), but I’m happy in the direction the show is headed. The series does need to turn down the “city-a-week” format in favor of focusing on a single location and it’s characters, but the writing and character development is an improvement from that pilot. I’d suggest Ms. Raven give the rest of the series another look.

Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief

Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.

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