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House Of Lies: The First Season (DVD Review)

House of Lies is a Showtime series based on the book by Martin Kihn, which presents a dark comedy focused on a management consultant and his team.  Despite not receiving universal acclaim, the series was popular enough during its first season run, with the second season of the series debuting this January.  I missed this show during its initial run, but have now had the chance to catch up on its first season.  What I took away from watching this series is that Showtime essentially wanted to create their own version of HBO’s Entourage, by way of Glengarry Glen Ross.  The solid cast and satirical style certainly helps in all of this, but the show is not without its flaws as well.  Continue on to find out more regarding my thoughts on the series, as well as the quality of this DVD package of the complete first season.

Series: 

The show focuses on a team of management consultants from Galweather & Stearn, the second highest ranked management consult agency in the U.S., who are based in Los Angeles but take on projects across the world.  The team is comprised of Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle), the team leader and junior partner; Jeannie van der Hooven (Kristen Bell), the Engagement Manager; and Doug Guggenheim (Josh Lawson) and Clyde Oberholdt (Ben Schwartz), the Associates.  The day-to-day for this series revolves around the team visiting different companies and providing consultation, while competing with each other over various petty matters (mainly in terms of sexual conquests).

The other large part of this show focuses on Marty’s personal life.  Marty is quite content with having created a comfortable lifestyle for himself, which is based around lying and bullsh*ting his way through clients to get the job done.  However, he must contend with his ex-wife, Monica (Dawn Olivieri), who is constantly trying to sexually manipulate him.  Additionally, Marty has an adolescent, bi-curious son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.), and a father, Jeremiah (Glynn Turman), who is constantly around as well, generally helping to take care of Roscoe.  Work constantly gets in the way for Marty, which leads to some of the drama that forms during the arc of this season.

The rest of the cast deals with various issues as well, but it is most notably Kristen Bell’s character, whose personal life is the most secretive to everyone else.  She is constantly working to earn higher regard from Marty and the firm, despite temptations from various other parties.  Furthermore, the actual firm that the team works for is given a major shakeup, with the threat of a merge with another company looming over much of the season.  It is just unfortunate that Marty has various enemies, making his work life and personal life harder and harder to control.

House of Lies was developed for Showtime by Matthew Carnahan, who has previously work on a number of TV shows, but most notably the FX series Dirt, which took a similar darkly comic look at the world of celebrity gossip magazines.  With House of Lies, Carnahan has been given much more leeway when it comes to presenting the hardcore aspects of the lifestyle choices made by Marty and his team.  While the show has office politics and management plans as its base, it is happy to provide lots of slick visuals, nudity, language, and more, in an attempt to entertain.  Whether or not this works is up to the viewer.  I was only taken so far by the “unrated-ness” of the show, given that substance became more and more of an issue.

A lot of effort is certainly put in to make true characters out of Marty, Jeannie, and some of the others, but it comes down to how much you end up liking these people, and I can’t say that many of them left a great impression.  I was happy to want to root for Marty, mainly because Don Cheadle is the reason I wanted to watch this show to begin with, and Kristen Bell proving that she is up to talking dirty with the boys was also fun, but everyone else just became rather hit-or-miss.  The antics of the other associates, played by Schwartz and Lawson, can only go so far, and Marty’s family eventually started to feel more like things destined to become cliched plot elements, despite having a dynamic that I did kind of enjoy.

So that leaves the business side of this series, which was also touch-and-go with how much I enjoyed it.  The fact that management consulting is not as inherently interesting as seeing Vince and the gang hanging out in Hollywood is a setback, but the show wants to get past that by trying its hand at cleverly commenting on the lives of slick and soulless consultants.  That is a neat idea that, at times, does manage to be quite interesting and fun to watch, depending on the clients and where the team is forced to travel.  A visual gimmick of the show is allowing Marty to pause time and directly address the camera, when it comes to explaining exactly how he is going to con his employers into accepting what he has to offer.  This is sometimes distracting, but other times a way to allow the show room for some witty one-liners and visual gags that are easy to laugh at.

That is really what House of Lies comes down to; whether or not you find it fun enough to laugh at, over the course of its 12 episodes.  I did burn through the show rather quickly, which is something that tends to come easy for me, when dealing with half-hour, cable comedy-dramas, but it is still not one that has me eagerly anticipating the second season sooner, rather than just waiting for the next DVD (hopefully Blu-ray) set to arrive within the next year.  The show may be aspiring to want to be about more, but for now, it just seems to be barely rising above a shallow level.

There is certainly a lot to like about this show, namely Don Cheadle, who I think is a terrific actor, and Kristen Bell, who is having a ball delving into her darker side.  At the same time though, especially during the initial episodes, the show seems to be a lot more about flash, rather than offering up anything that is all that interesting.  It certainly has a satirical edge that provides potential for growth in the latter half of the season and presumably in what I can only hope is a much stronger second season.  For now though, House of Lies is more like a show that has a lot to draw from, but has not quite assembled the most successful product.

Video: 

Showtime always seems to have a weird regard for the TV shows, as some are given Blu-ray releases and others just receive DVDs.  For this DVD, the presentation is okay.  For a show about a bunch of slick consultants, this is not the slickest presentation.  It does a decent job of presenting the show and showing off the colors and flashiness of the visual style, but it is still just a DVD.  There is a noticeable lack of deeper clarity and textures are not so refined.  Given that Showtime has an HD broadcast of this series, it is a shame that the home release can’t look better.

Audio: 

Again, you are not getting the true Blu quality of this series, merely what works on a DVD, but it is not terrible.  It is a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track, so it is certainly good enough in presenting a fine audio experience.  Dialogue is clear enough and a lot of the music tracks play very well throughout.  One can just tell that the experience is only so good, compared to a Blu-ray presentation, but it is certainly listenable and a solid audio track overall.

Extras: 

Always confusing is the effort Showtime puts into their extra features.  Surely there was more that could have been included?  But no, we have a couple commentaries and very brief featurettes.

Features Include:

Commentary on “The Gods of Dangerous Financial Instruments” with cast Don Cheadle, Josh Lawson, Ben Schwartz, writer Matthew Carnahan, and Executive Producer Jessika Borsiczky

Commentary on “The Mayan Apocalypse” with cast Josh Lawson, Ben Schwartz, writer Matthew Carnahan, and Executive Producer Jessika Borsiczky

Featurettes:

Hanging with Kristen Bell

Hanging with Don Cheadle

Rainmaker

Marty Kaan Profile

E-Bridge Technology, which allows you to view episodes of other Showtime shows on your PC:

            The Borgias, Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2

            Dexter, Season 7, Episodes 1 & 2

Summary:

House of Lies is a show that can definitely grow to be better in its second season.  As of now, it has some fun performances, is occasionally clever, but certainly fun and watchable.  I do wish I could have watched this series on Blu-ray, but the audio and video presentations are certainly decent, just not anything mind-blowing.  The extras department does leave a lot to be desired though.  Decent show and decent DVD package of the first season, overall.

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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