Friday, January 6, 2012

Preview - House of Lies

Mad Men is an award-winning show that critics love to gush over.  2011 saw the first two Mad Men clones churned out by network television.  ABC and NBC offered up Pan Am and The Playboy Club, respectively.  Only Pan Am is still on the air.

With Showtime's House of Lies, starring Don Cheadle, we have another show rife with Mad Men's DNA.

House of Lies features Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan the head of a management consultant firm.  Kaan is successful, we know this because he explicitly tells the audience that he makes "seven figures a year."  He's the head of his firm which also includes Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson.

But Kaan isn't just about business.  He's also a supportive father to a son sorting out his gender identity.  He's got an ex-wife who heads up a rival management consultant firm.  Oh and he's clearly yet to cope with his mother's suicide.

The thrust of the pilot is that Kaan and company have been brought in to woo a client with a huge problem.  The client is partially responsible for the great mortgage collapse, but they still want to get their huge bonuses.  Kaan comes in and gives them a plan to have their cake and eat it too.

House of Lies looks great.  It's well shot and stylized.  For instance throughout the episode, the action will freeze and Kaan breaks the fourth wall providing exposition and explaining specific terms and jargon.

The performances are equally solid.  Schwartz continues the schtick that's gotten him this far while Bell plays  her Jeannie Van Der Hooven as a modern woman who can hang with the boys, but still wants to be a mom somewhere down the line.  Josh Lawson is also in the show, not doing much, but it's just the pilot.  

Where House of Lies falters is that, at least for the pilot, it feels almost like an adaptation of Mad Men in a modern setting.  In the Mad Men pilot dashing (and womanizing) ad executive Don Draper single-handedly comes up with a way to salvage marketing for a reviled tobacco company.  In House of Lies dashing (and womanizing) management consultant Marty Kaan single-handedly comes up with a way to salvage bonuses for a reviled Wall Street firm.

It's that feeling of deja vu that really keeps House of Lies from being truly enjoyable.  At this point we've all seen Don Draper come through in a meeting with a client and score with the perfect pitch, so when Kaan does it, albeit with more profanity and a power point presentation, it feels stale.

Hopefully House of Lies will move beyond being Mad Men clone and into something fresh and innovative.

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