House of Lies
is a stable performer for Showtime, but for a show filled with such talented actors, it's never really taken off. That might be because the show can often feel overstuffed; like the characters themselves, the series is pursuing too many story avenues to ever settle down.
At any given moment, in any given episode, the show can morph into a family drama, pull out some long-simmering romantic angst, become a case-of-the-week corporate procedural, or just settle into it's default as a workplace sitcom.
It's hard to pin down what House of Lies wants to do with all these disparate storytelling threads, which can make it a hard show to develop that kind of Game of Thrones-ian slavish devotion cable shows hope will propel them into the zeitgeist. No one is ever going to write about House of Lies as much as HBO's controversial Lena Dunham-penned sitcom Girls, yet Lies probably has far more viewers.
For all it's many story elements, however, by the end of the second season the show had settled into a pretty well-established groove. The audience was comfortable with the characters, the "pod," and the Galweather universe.
Which isn't to say that Lies never took chances last season. The show hasn't been afraid to shy away from controversial topics and tackle issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Two episodes midway through last season tackled the elephant in the room, dealing directly with the racism Marty faces as a black man in the lily white corporate world. And Marty's son Roscoe remains a bright, progressive spot on the show.
Roscoe's sexual orientation continues to be treated as no big deal, even while the show acknowledges his struggles. In season 3 he tries out for the basketball team, while still dropping musical theater references. Roscoe has no issues with the idea of fluid gender identity, and the show has rarely played his character for cheap laughs.
Still, by the end of season 2 the audience knew what to expect from the show. So the show decided to blow up it's own format. Marty left to start his own company, Clyde betrayed him to leverage a better gig with Monica, Doug decided to stick with the familiar, and things between Marty and Jeannie had never been worse.
The beginning of season 3 continues the upheaval, with all members of the original pod scattered to the wind. It also gives the show a needed shot in the arm, allowing all of the characters to shine on their own merits. Marty is finally running his own shop, but his success isn't the gangbusters he might have hoped. Jeannie and Doug are finding life at Galweather has changed, while Cydle immediately begins to regret his decision to throw his lot in with the psychotic Monica.
Blowing up the format also allows the show to bring in some fresh blood and introduce new characters. There is new talent at Marty Kaan and Associates, new members of Jeannie's pod at Galweather, and even new characters in Clyde's beleaguered pod headed up by Monica. This may seem like a lot of new faces to remember, but circumstances change rapidly in the House of Lies universe.
Unfortunately, the romance between Jeannie and Marty has never read as compelling or fleshed-out as the show thinks it is, leaving some of the moments of Marty's Jeannie-related anxiety to fall flat. Yet Kristen Bell is doing some of her best work as an even tougher and more hardened version of Jeannie.
And for the Veronica Mars fans in the audience, another former Neptune resident pops up within the first three episodes. Never let it be said that House of Lies doesn't know how to pander.
Some of the best moments in the first few episodes back in the House of Lies universe, surprisingly enough, come courtesy of Clyde. The writing for the character has always seemed to do a disservice to the very funny and talented Ben Schwartz. Finally the material for Clyde seems to be elevated, giving Schwartz something to really sink his teeth into. His reaction shots to the increasingly crazy Monica are a thing of beauty, and his desperation to get away from the corporate wicked witch goes a long way towards humanizing a fairly flat character.
Speaking of Monica, that character has been one the show has struggled with since day one. This season it appears the show has given up entirely and just started turning into the skid, transforming Monica into even more of a cartoon villain.
Dressed up for a charity event and violently berating her staff in one scene, she looks like nothing so much as a Disney villain. She's Ursula by way of Prada. Is this a better take on a troublesome character? Who knows, but at least it's funnier.
Throughout all the cosmetic changes in season 3, House of Lies remains mostly the same. It's still a show where a bunch of bad people are jerks to each other, with occasional glimpses of a soul deep down underneath. It's got the ribald teasing and filthy mouth of Veep, without the political satire. Yet splitting up the gang allows the show to open up its universe and tell some new and compelling stories.
We all know the pod will eventually reunite, but until they do the show is smart enough to mine a surprising amount of comedy and drama out of their estrangement. House of Lies isn't exactly reinventing the wheel, not even with this season 3 shakeup, yet it's a show which probably deserves more attention than it gets.
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House of Lies airs Sundays at 10pm on Showtime.
(Image courtesy of Showtime)