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Breaking the fourth wall with House of Lies

Showtime adds another half-hour comedy series to its slate with 'House of Lies', likely making Kristen Bell fans happy, and disappointing people confused by the use of the term "con."

When I was watching the pilot of Showtime’s House of Lies with Deb, I said something along the lines of, “Ah, I see … this is Showtime’s replacement for Entourage.” Then I remembered this was not HBO I was watching, but Showtime. Oops. That fact aside, my reasoning was this: here’s a show that could quite possibly make it on network television, but it’s thrown onto cable because they can show boobies, say things like “fuck” a lot, and insert a lot of sex talk where it may not even be necessary. I’m not necessarily saying the insertion of all that is a bad thing, but I do wonder if it’s something needed to make a cable show work.

First and foremost, I will freely admit that my geeky, Veronica Mars-loving self is happy to see Kristen Bell back on a weekly TV show. So far, though, after seeing the first three episodes (via screener from Showtime), she’s not getting a whole lot of story thrown her way. There’s promise for more, during the third episode, though it appears we’re going to have to settle to the fact that this show is really all about Don Cheadle‘s Marty Kaan. It’s about Kaan’s family, business and everything in between, where his team of “cons” (consultants — yeah, that part confused me at first too. More on that later.) serves merely as support, as does his live-in father, cross-dressing tweenage son, and ex-wife/business rival. Again, not necessarily a bad thing — it’s just the way it is.

The first time I read a quick synopsis of House of Lies, it really did come off like this was going to be another Leverage. The fact that the term “con” was used to mean “consultant” didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that Cheadle’s been in Ocean’s Eleven and all of its sequels, playing — yes — a con man. In some ways these characters are conning people, but not in that Ocean’s-y, Leverage-y, heist-y way. In one way I was disappointed by this revelation, but you know what? We’ve got Leverage; no need for another one of those.

While I dug the first three episodes of this series, and — as I said — I dig seeing Kristen Bell on my screen, I can’t say that I’m on board for the long haul. What I liked most about the series was the way they break the fourth wall with some clever techniques, and some of the techniques Kaan uses to land his clients. I do wonder, though, if the continuous wall breaking and jargon explaining will get old. Can the show live on well enough without those gimmicks? I think it could do just fine, for the right kind of crowd.

Photo Credit: Patrick Ecclesine/SHOWTIME

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2 Responses to “Breaking the fourth wall with House of Lies”

January 9, 2012 at 2:05 AM

This show reminded me of hustle (the show Leverage ripped off it’s whole thing from). That show did the time stopping thing a lot at first but then eased off it once most of their tactics and such had been explained. It never really got old. I figure it will be the same in this case.

January 9, 2012 at 9:40 PM

There were certain points where I felt the breaking the fourth wall was getting old in the pilot alone. Like some of the definitions of the terms they use were obvious enough that we didn’t need to pause and have it explained to us.

I also didn’t like how the edgyness felt forced. Yes I get its Showtime, but it just seemed like they were shoehorning it into the show out of obligation. The show Boss had the same problem. They think forcing as many ‘fucks’ and tits into every episode even if it doesn’t fit the plot will help them compete with HBO, when really they need to take it back a notch and make it fit with the plot more organically before they add it in. I think they need to study Deadwood. David Milch can write fuck as every other word and it comes out like poetry. House of Lies sounds like a 12 year trying to sound cool.

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