Tag Archives: Kristen Bell

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.

Everything on TV sucks. Watch "Veronica Mars" instead.

Show: Veronica Mars
Seasons: Three, aired 2004-2007
Network: UPN, the CW
Log line: Nancy Drew meets Buffy, or high-school drama if written by Raymond Chandler

Veronica Mars had no business being this good. Surely, high school dramas, filled with boy trouble, peevish principles, and parents who just don’t understand, can’t be serious shows. But like Buffy the Vampire Slayer before it, Veronica Mars coupled a strong female lead with even stronger writing to give unexpected depth to a silly premise.

Not just a high school drama, Veronica Mars was a mystery show. Its protagonist and titular character (played by the captivating Kristen Bell) a budding detective who part-times for her father Keith (Enrico Colantoni, Just Shoot Me), the disgraced former sheriff of Neptune, California. Mysteries-of-the-week were interesting enough – a missing parent here, a stolen poker pot there – but the show’s real strength was in crafting season-long arcs (the third season altered this a bit, with a couple of multi-episode plots). Keith Mars lost his job after falsely accusing local hero Jake Kane (Kyle Secor, Homicide) of the murder of his daughter – and Veronica’s best friend – Lilly (Amanda Seyfried, before she Mamma Mia’d her way to stardom). Over the first season, Veronica re-opens the case on her own, determined to prove her father right and bring Lilly’s true killer to justice.

If Veronica is Jake Gittes, then Neptune is her Chinatown. The seemingly-idyllic Southern California burb is wrecked with class warfare between the scions of wealth and fame (or Oh-Niners, for residents of the posh 90909 ZIP code) and a middling underclass. Along with costing her father his job, Keith’s fall from grace mirrored Veronica’s banishment from the former group to the latter. Along with her best friend and her seat at the cool table, Veronica also lost her boyfriend, Duncan Kane (Lilly’s brother, played by Teddy Dunn).

Moving from the cheerleading squad to the loser table, Veronica replaces teenaged pep with icy cynicism. Her main tormentor, and Neptune High’s “obligatory psychotic jackass,” is Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). Duncan’s best friend and Lilly’s boyfriend at the time of her death (small world), Logan is the bad boy with the devil may care attitude. Damaged by Lilly’s death and an abusive household, Logan’s character arc is the show’s most rewarding. He also gets some of the show’s best one-liners.

Veronica is not totally alone. In the pilot episode, she befriends Wallace Fennel (Percy Daggs III), whose sense of loyalty compares favorably to that of a Wookie with a life debt. Later on, Veronica finds her very own Q in the form of Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie (Tina Majorino), who becomes her on-call hacker. She also has an uneasy alliance with Eli “Weevil” Navarro (Francis Capra), the leader of the PCH Biker Gang. That’s right – a teenage biker gang! One of the more fantastic elements of Veronica Mars, the PCH’ers seem more realistic with each passing flash mob news report.

Veronica eventually gets to the bottom of the Lilly Kane murder, as she does with the mysterious bus crash that dominated the second season. The third season takes Veronica and company to nearby Hearst College, where the main plots involve a campus rapist and a murdered dean. Unfortunately, it also started to bend from the weight of network notes, as the show continuously struggled with low ratings. While Veronica’s romantic life was always an undercurrent, it’s not until the third season’s love triangles and “will they/won’t they” cliffhangers that the show became awash with teeny bopper angst. Still, Veronica Mars (both show and character) kept their dignity and ended things with an appropriately dour conclusion.

A proposed fourth season would have featured Veronica at the FBI, but a backdoor pilot did not sway CW executives. As hard as it is for fans to admit, it’s better this way. Veronica Mars wouldn’t have worked as a rote crime procedural – it was more than that. High school drama, compelling mysteries, sharp tongued dialogue and a surprising amount of social commentary, Veronica Mars had it all.

While TheWB.com is streaming seasons 2 and 3 of Veronica Mars, you’ll have to turn to Amazon Instant Video or iTunes for the essential first season.