Liz Tells Frank What Happened In the “House of Lies” Pilot

Dear Frank,

Show me the person who doesn’t like Don Cheadle and I’ll show you a liar. I mean, seriously, what could you object to? Do you not think that Boogie Nights is awesome? Was his performance in Hotel Rwanda TOO heart-breaking? I mean, sure, his accent in the Ocean’s Eleven movies is a little silly, but it’s SUPPOSED to be silly. C’mon now.

Thus, Frank, because I am a person of sense and taste, of course I decided to take advantage of Showtime’s generosity and sample the first episode of House of Lies, Showtime’s new dramedy series starring Don Cheadle. And not just because I love me some Cheadle — the supporting cast is also pretty good! Veronica Mars! Jean-Ralphio! Some random guy who I don’t recognize from other TV shows but doesn’t trip over himself terribly! Thus, worthy of 34 minutes of my time.

At least, I hope it is.

It’s worth noting that because what I am watching is a free download from iTunes, the episode is edited for content, which means lots of muted four-letter-words and censored nakedness. As a result, here is the tableau presented in the opening shot of this pilot:

Order Showtime now for NAKED CHEADLE.

The naked lady in bed with Cheadle, we quickly are told, is Cheadle’s ex-wife, whom gets shoved back into her dress despite the fact that she’s passed out from pills and sexing the night before. When she comes to, he kicks her out without letting her spend any time with their son or eat French toast. I’m not honestly sure which act is more cruel. But we’re told she’s crazy, so I guess it’s okay? Bitches, man. Bitches be buying shoes.

Anyhoo, the remaining family members sit down to breakfast — Cheadle, Cheadle’s hypercritical retired shrink father, and Cheadle’s son, who is “acting out his gender issues”: i.e. is transgendered. Cheadle makes a strained effort to be supportive of said kid’s announcement that he’s trying out for the role of Sandy in Grease; the whole “actively trying to be supportive but clearly faking it” approach to portraying a father dealing with his son’s gender issues gets weird at certain points, but despite the kid’s cliche fascination with Olivia Newton-John, I suppose this storyline could be a whole lot worse.

On the down side, this breakfast scene contains a lot of moments where the characters just bitch at each other about various things and actively dislike each other. I am worried that that will be the case for the entire show…

…and based on the next scene, I’m totally not wrong! Cheadle and his crack team of young hot management consultants power-walk through an airport, heading to New York to pitch their next potential client, a fake sub-prime mortgage loan broker that is one of the many companies being blamed for the 2008 financial crisis. NEW AND ORIGINAL PLOTLINE RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES.

POWER ROLLERS.

Wait, what the hell, Cheadle? Yeah, you, third from the left. That bag’s not going to fit into an overhead! C’mon, seriously, you’re gonna check that? It’s like Up in the Air never even happened.

Digression over! Back to our story! Here’s the deal, Frank: Cheadle and his guys get paid to come up with awesome ideas for major corporations, and their clients in this case are rich white men want to keep their bonuses without being actively mauled by the American public. There’s one guy they need to win over, who is the main rich white guy, and then there is a guy who is going to be the guy who helps them with that. He’s played by That Guy From All Those Things, Ally McBeal edition, and Cheadle makes meeting him and impressing him a priority, but their first big meeting doesn’t go too great. Cheadle has a plan, though! And a crack team to do research! This may actually matter at some point.

But first, the team goes to a strip club and gets ka-ray-zay on the Evil Corporation’s dollar. Cheadle in particular is quite taken with a lady stripper, staggering out of the club with her at a ridiculously late hour and taking her… Wait, he takes her to an all-night diner for breakfast food? Why the fuck would he do that?

Oh! So he can coincidentally run into That Guy, who’s stopping by the diner for some cappucino during his regular morning half-marathon. Sure, okay. Cheadle lies about the stripper being his wife, and so That Guy invites them to join him and his wife for a strategy double date that night (because it’s morning now, Frank, if I wasn’t being clear). The stripper is kinda feisty, in a fun way. It’s almost a shame that this show treats Cheadle’s conquests as largely disposable.

Wait! I have to take that back! Because the ex-Mrs. Cheadle shows up at the Evil Corporation the next day, because she turns out to be his competitor at a higher-ranked company (and a bit of a sociopath, but that’s unrelated).

Oh, Frank! I’ve been forgetting to mention! We keep getting bits of information like this because Cheadle freezes the action Zack Morris-style to explain fancy consulting terms like “afterwork” or offer advice like “don’t fuck your ex-wife.”

Fancy green-screening fun!

The technology has advanced slightly since Saved by the Bell, but while the effect is cool it’s a bit distracting. I suppose it could be worse — could be voice-over.

At dinner that night, the wine flows freely, and it turns out that That Guy’s wife is super-cute (I think she’s the girl who played the preacher’s wife on True Blood and that girl Don Draper dated a little on Mad Men? Yeah, she totally is!) and also super-gay. She and the stripper have sex in the bathroom of the restaurant, which would have been no big deal if the wife didn’t tell That Guy about it immediately afterwards. For some reason, That Guy and Cheadle have a fight about it, and Cheadle head-butts That Guy. Good move, Cheadle.

There’s now a scene where Veronica Mars tells Cheadle that she’ll never ever sleep with him and that he’s fucked up because his mom committed suicide. This happens, very professionally, in the office waiting room while they watch the Ex-Cheadle pitch her plan to the rich white men to wild applause.

An aside: Veronica Mars is awesome, as always, but this thing they’re trying to do where she’s the moral center of the show and tells Cheadle that he’s emotionally damaged and says things like “I would rather work at Arby’s” doesn’t work. You know why, Frank? Because SHE DOESN’T WORK AT ARBY’S. She is a grown woman working a job she understands fully and if she actually does have a conscience then it makes no sense for her to still be working this job and for fuck’s sake I just want to watch Veronica Mars be mean and conniving like everyone else on this show. STOP RUINING THIS FOR ME, SHOW.

And while I’m whining: Frank, I’m kind of amazed at the way Ben Schwartz’s talents for douchebaggery are being wasted here. This is a show about douchebags, and yet not a single thing Schwartz says or does comes close to touching the heights achieved by Jean-Ralphio in just one scene of Parks and Recreation.

But I guess that happens when you are someone who is not Cheadle on the Cheadle show.

Back to that! Even though That Guy’s got a wicked bruise and some serious hate going for Cheadle, Cheadle still gets to pitch his plan: A loan amnesty program that won’t cost a lot of money (because they’ll use technicalities to screw over the vast majority of the applicants) but will be a huge PR boom. Hooray for that! Cheadle gets a hug from the main rich white guy. Everybody wins.

Back in L.A., Cheadle’s transgendered son gets the part of Sandy in the school play, but another parent complains about her (cisgendered) daughter not getting the part, and Cheadle’s all ready to fight for his kid, but the other parent turns out to be a hot mom. So Cheadle sells out his kid (who gets the role of Rizzo, which is arguably a better part, but it still sucks that the kid didn’t get to be Sandy) and then Cheadle fucks the hot mom during the “Tell Me More” portion of the show. He doesn’t look like he is having a good time while fucking the mom, and then the next morning he talks to Veronica Mars on the phone and he nearly asks her to tell him if he’s a good person but then he chickens out and looks into the bathroom mirror and is sad.

No one ever said being Cheadle was easy.

So, I don’t know, Frank. This seems like a nice fit for Showtime — House of Lies and Californication should get gay married, they’re so perfect for each other. And look for Don Cheadle to start getting Emmy nominations for best comedic actor under the Nurse Jackie precedent.

But do I actually want to watch another episode?

Probably not.

Do I want to subscribe to Showtime for naked Cheadle?

Let me think about that one.

Love,
Liz

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on January 3, 2012, in All the Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This show sounds soul-destroying…

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