Tag Archives: dramedy

Showtime's "House of Lies" is an oversexed take on the One Percent

Is America ready to laugh with the one percent? With its newest offering House of Lies, Showtime thinks so.

House of Lies is a dramedy about a team of management consultants that counsel our corporate overlords. Their fearless leader is Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle), who is sly, brash, and like any Showtime protagonist, deeply damaged. He lives with his father (Glynn Turman, last seen as The Wire‘s Mayor Royce) and his precocious, gender-confused son Roscoe. Roscoe is equal parts Manny from Modern Family and Sam from The Riches, but should provide a different type of drama than the usual angst that TV kids provide.

Marty’s team consists of three young turks. Kristen Bell‘s Jeannie Van Der Hooven is a business psychologist who Marty wants to bed. Smooth talker Clyde Oberholt is played by Parks and Recreation‘s Ben Schwartz, who handles the role as if Jean-Ralphio went to Wharton. Rounding out the crew is Australian TV vet Josh Lawson as Doug Guggenheim, a Harvard grad who proves you can’t teach class.

Showtime has a reputation for using the loose standards of premium cable to program oversexed comedies and dramas, and House of Lies is no different, beginning with the first scene of the pilot. Marty awakens nude with a comatose woman who turns out to be his ex-wife Monica (Dawn Olivieri) – a pill popper and his professional nemesis. The story takes the gang to a strip club and includes a bit of sex in unusual places. Throughout the pilot, the question arises: is sex incidental to the plot or a driver of it? At least with Californication, it’s right there in the title; with House of Lies, it seems sensational.

Like the characters it presents, House of Lies is slick, using freeze frame to let Marty break the fourth wall and explain industry jargon and impart wisdom. In the pilot, at least, the plot is overtly topical: banker bonuses, bad mortgages, and the financial crisis. If it had been produced more recently, it no doubt would have included the Occupy movement. As management consultants, the characters will probably spend most of their time dealing with “masters of the fucking universe,” but the vagaries of their industry should allow for varied plots. While it’s not breaking new creative ground, House of Lies lets its stars shine. Watching Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell get “the guys who have the world by the balls by the balls” is reason enough to watch.

House of Lies airs Sundays at 10PM on Showtime.

The final season of "Rescue Me" starts with a bang

Like Weeds, Rescue Me is one of the shows that defined the last decade’s television Golden Age. Also like Weeds, it hasn’t aged particularly well, the victim of the same kind of stakes-raising that has made the former a parody of itself. With the seventh and final season kicking off last night, can Rescue Me salvage its legacy?

The season premiere opens with the Gavin universe in an uneasy stasis. Tommy’s nephew Damien, rendered severely brain damaged in a firefighting accident last season, appears ready to join the rest of Tommy’s “ghosts.” Yet his is a fate worse than death, arguably – living without living, Purgatory on Earth. Predictably, Sheila is delusional and in denial about Damien’s possible recovery. Janet is pregnant (for the fifth time), and she and Tommy decide to keep the baby. The specter of their deceased son Connor still hangs heavy over their relationship, even with Wyatt (the product of Janet and Johnny’s affair) in the fold. Janet wants a normal relationship, but Tommy can’t promise that: “We are way beyond goddamn normal.”

Fast forward five months: A very pregnant Janet has formed an alliance with longtime nemesis Sheila; a friendship forged in fire at the hands of Tommy. With two women and two maturing children to tend to things, Tommy’s role as “man of the house” is in question. Complicating matters is this new dynamic with the women in his life: can he trust either one, or is this more “she said / she said?” Either way, Janet and Sheila calling Tommy “a walking hard-on with a fire helmet” is essentially his character bible.

Finally, the audience sees the firehouse. During a dry spell, fire-wise, the gang sits around making dated Jersey Shore and Flavor of Love references. Remember when these characters were the lifeblood of the show? Lovable dimwits Sean and Mike, ladies-man Franco, and salt of the Earth Lou have been run through the ringer the last few years, surviving cancer, death in the family, sexual identity crisis, baby mama drama, nuns and con artists. At this point, their banter rings hollow.

The bar is now being run by Teddy and Johnny, who have Tommy’s daughter Colleen on the payroll. Should all these recovering alcoholics be in a bar? The bar as support system is a re-hashing of the Gavin family AA group, and audiences will remember how that turned out (tragically). When “Black Shawn” proposes to Colleen, she gets hammered; apparently Tommy’s “baptism in alcohol” didn’t stick. Tommy is furious, but rejects a drink after a meeting with his ghosts (his father, his brother, and his cousin). Instead, he breaks up the bar with a few warning shots from Teddy’s shotgun: “Party’s over, assholes.”

The party will be over soon, as the series will end on the tenth anniversary of September 11th. Frankly, it’s about time: what started as a comment on how quickly we forget our heroes became an overwrought soap opera with the macho trappings of firefighting. Here’s hoping Rescue Me shows some respect for its characters in its final episodes, so that audiences never forget this gut-wrenching journey.

Rescue Me airs Wednesdays at 10PM on FX.

Why do I keep watching "Weeds"?

When Weeds premiered in 2005, it was a breath of fresh air. One of Showtime’s biggest hits, it ushered in a wave of cable dominance for the network, including the similarly-themed Dexter, Californication, United States of Tara, and Nurse Jackie. “Suburban MILF/widow becomes pot dealer” was a simple enough premise: grounded in reality with enough drama and risk built right in. The dialogue was some of the sharpest on television, and the satire was always sharp. Mary-Louise Parker’s Nancy Botwin was mesmerizing as she struggled to balance the various roles in her new life. As the first season closed, with a brilliant homage to the end of The Godfather, it appeared that the show could only get better.

And it did, for a while. But after six seasons and over 70 episodes, Weeds is no longer the sweet little dramedy it was in the beginning. The main culprit is the dramatic need to keep raising the stakes – a problem experienced by shows like 24. As Nancy got deeper and deeper into the drug game, the gangsters got bigger and the risks got higher. The suburban satire was literally burned to the ground at the end of the third season, putting the Botwins on the road (from Ren Mar to Tijuana to Seattle to Dearborn). For a while, the show meandered, searching for its lost identity.

Change is inevitable over the course of a long-running show, but the change in Nancy’s character – from likeable and flawed to reckless and selfish – has anchored the show around an unsympathetic protagonist. Case in point: marrying DEA Agent Peter was short-sighted, but marrying kingpin Esteban was insane. It was if the character was intentionally making bad decisions, confounding logic and frustrating the audience at the same time.

By the end of the sixth season, it looked like Nancy’s bad decisions had finally caught up with her. With Esteban and Guillermo on her tail, she engineered “Plan C,” simultaneously securing a new life for her family, implicating Esteban, and taking the blame for a murder Shane committed. The seventh season opens three years later, with Nancy at an unexpected parole hearing that results in her release to a halfway house in NYC. The family had established new lives in Copenhagen, but return to the states when they find out Nancy is free. Conveniently, Esteban died on the way to his home planet in the prison yard.

Faced with living in a halfway house, sharing a room with a sociopath, and working a minimum wage job, Nancy quickly and predictably returns to her old ways. Astonishingly, she violates her parole 40 minutes into the new season by smoking a joint with her prison lover’s brother (Pablo Schreiber, of The Wire and Lights Out), with whom she plans to trade a cache of stolen weapons (!) for weed. As Silas looks to relaunch his modeling career stateside, Shane and Andy watch the hilariously-titled “Your Inmate: What to Expect” as they wait for Nancy to return to the halfway house.

What the Botwin clan – and the audience – should expect is unending recidivism. Like them, I/we keep coming back for more. But faced with an unrepentant character, for whom three years in the slammer isn’t “rock bottom,” for how much longer is up for debate.

Weeds airs Mondays at 10PM on Showtime.