In a television landscape dominated by protagonists who are murderers, drug kingpins, serial philanderers, and other assorted life-ruiners, Showtime may have finally gone too far: Marty Kaan, the central character of its new half-hour comedy series House of Lies (debuts Sunday at 10 pm), is a corporate consultant whose job it is to help his clients lie to customers and stay rich. In the first episode, Kaan (Don Cheadle) and his team advise a bank involved in mass foreclosures on how to turn the tide of bad press while screwing everyone over. When Cheadle and Co. close the deal, it's played as a massive moment of triumph. Not to impugn consultants as class or anything, but how are we supposed to root for this guy?
House of Lies follows Showtime's recent formula for TV success to near self-parody: recognizable stars from the world of film and television (Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Richard Schiff) doing bad things, and nudity that sets a new standard for gratuitous. It also leans heavily on a jarring freeze-frame gimmick that allows Kaan to step outside the scene and explain bits of consulting jargon directly to the camera, even when what's happening isn't that difficult to decipher. Bell is decent, but her tightly wound career woman is a character we've seen millions of times. Ben Schwartz, so hilarious in a recurring role on Parks and Recreation as a character who would have fit perfectly in the House of Lies universe, is utterly wasted here, playing a personality-free protégé of Kaan's.
IN NEED OF REDEMPTION Don Cheadle is a ruthless corporate consultant in Showtime’s new half-hour comedy series, House of Lies.
The one thing this show has going for it — and the one reason I found myself caring at all about what might happen to Kaan — is the team of Donis Leonard Jr. and Glynn Turman as Kaan's gender-bending son and ex-psychiatrist father, respectively. These two are more intriguing and better drawn than anyone in Kaan's work life, and they bring out some of his vulnerabilities (which are well-played by Cheadle). So maybe Kaan can have a crisis of confidence and start subverting his own job. That's something we could all root for.
Also airing on Showtime Sundays (9 pm), and also featuring a big Hollywood name playing an unlikable character, is Shameless, now entering its second season. The difference is that Shameless's scoundrel is — at the beginning of season two, at least — intended as the villain, or at least a guy who's got some work to do.
Based on a British comedy of the same name, Shameless stars William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher, an alcoholic father of six who constantly scams others, steals from his family and his shut-in girlfriend (Joan Cusack), and exploits his youngest kid for panhandling. The show spends a lot of time with Frank, but it's clear that he's bad news — in the season premiere, his toddler-aged son Liam is kidnapped as collateral for a bad bar bet. Meanwhile, four of the Gallagher children are left to carry the sympathetic heft of the story. But there's not much of interest in adventures of waitress Fiona (Emmy Rossum) or those of Lip (Jeremy Allen White) and his ongoing complicated relationship with his sex-addict friend with benefits. More sympathetic are tween Deb (Emma Kenney), who's searching for breathing room in the house, and teen Ian (Cameron Monaghan), who's seeking admission to West Point.