Tag Archives: showtime

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.

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.

First thoughts: "The Borgias"

After the success of The Tudors, it was only a matter of time before Showtime cracked open the history books for another sexy historical drama. Even more scandalous than the House of Tudor was the House of Borgia; the latter is the subject of Showtime’s latest offering.

The Borgias were an Italian noble family of Spanish ancestry that rose to power in the late 15th century. On their list of accused crimes: adultery, simony, theft, rape, bribery, incest, and murder. Not too shabby for a family whose patriarch gained the highest perch in all of Renaissance-era Europe: the Papacy.

The Borgias is the brainchild of Neil Jordan, the writer/director behind The Crying Game. It is a well-dressed historical drama, with lush costumes and sets befitting noble courts. Jeremy Irons brings considerable heft to a cast of (mostly unknowns) as Rodrigo Borgia/Alexander VI. It looks like François Arnaud, who plays Rodrigo’s son Cesare, will be a major focus, as he ruthlessly acts as Cardinal and consigliere for his father.

The two-hour premier of The Borgias focused on Rodrigo Borgia’s controversial transformation into Pope Alexander VI. The politics of the College of Cardinals, the Borgia clan’s complicated relationships, and Cesare Borgia’s behind-the-scenes machinations also provide grist for the program. It also features the sex and violence that have come to define premium cable dramas; in this case, it doesn’t feel forced.

However, the show is flawed by the Shakespearean reading given to the dialogue – a British accent the stand-in for Italian and Latin intonations. But if you can get beyond that, the show has promise. This period of history is particularly rich – so rich, in fact, that there is another show in development about the same figures. Tom Fontana, who created Oz, does the same for Borgia for France’s CanalPlus. Let’s hope that Fontana brings the same no-holds-barred approach to his version of the Borgia mythology. For now, The Borgias has the advantage of being the first horse out of the gate.

The Borgias airs on Showtime, Sundays at 10pm.

"Nurse Jackie" and "United States of Tara" return tonight

Showtime is the network built by women. Starting with Weeds in 2005, Showtime’s emergence as a drama powerhouse on par with HBO coincided with focusing on dark comedies about strong female characters (even in ostensibly male-oriented shows like Dexter and Californication). Two of the shows responsible for the network’s premium cable dominance return for third seasons tonight, after second season finales that asked as many questions as they answered.

When we last saw Edie Falco’s Nurse Jackie, things were starting to catch up with the no-bullshit title character. After two seasons of popping pills, banging pharmacists, and generally carrying on a double life, Jackie faced an intervention of sorts, as husband Kevin and best friend Dr. O’Hara finally started to figure things out. Her reaction? “My name is Jackie, and I’m an addict.” Cue tear-stained, molar-baring laughter. “Blow me.” It was a pitch-perfect end to the season.

While the show is sharply written and features a host of well-drawn characters, Nurse Jackie fits Showtime’s high concept model to a tee: main character strives for normalcy while dealing with a deep, dark – and possibly illegal – secret. As shows like Weeds and Dexter have found success, the greatest challenge seems to be making the show compelling while continuing to raise the stakes. However, with no end game in sight, the plots start to strain under the weight, pushing on the audience’s credulity.

Jackie now faces the same problem. With things out in the open, what is the show about? From the finale, a mea culpa from Jackie followed by a long recovery seems neither in character or particularly interesting. Judging by the trailer, it looks like Jackie’s infidelity remains a secret; the Jackie-Kevin-Eddie dynamic will be further complicated as Kevin’s sister Tunie (Jaimie Alexander) enters the picture. With that new twist, and the best hospital staff dynamic since early Scrubs, watching Jackie dig a deeper hole is as much schadenfreude-filled fun as ever.

While Nurse Jackie is somewhat hamstrung, United States of Tara continues to expand upon its premise. The nature of Toni Collette’s dissociative character allows for new developments, within reason. From the original trio of personalities (Alice, Buck, and T), new elements of Tara’s psyche have emerged: her id personified as Gimme, her internal therapist Shoshana, and the infantile Chicken. It’s a bit of a full house, but each break-off persona is organically linked to a specific stress or trauma, and watching Collette stretch and contort into each role is fascinating.

After hitting a wall in her treatment and the search for the root causes of her condition, Tara continued down the rabbit hole in the second season. With help from her sister Charmaine, she found Mimi, the woman with whom the girls were inexplicably fostered during their youth (and the model for Alice). As the girls finally confront their parents, their mother’s evasive behavior and their father’s worsening mental health only raised more questions (is their mysterious half-brother really gone? Probably not). Meanwhile, the family dealt with their own issues: Charmaine and Kate broke off unhealthy relationships, Marshall confronted his sexuality, and Max (the best husband ever) struggled to hold the whole mess together.

From the trailer, it looks like a new persona will enter the mix, along with some new people: the magnificent Eddie Izzard returns to TV as Tara’s psychology professor. And while Max, Charmaine, Kate, and Marshall will undoubtedly have their own trials and tribulations, the show belongs to Tara – all of her.

Showtime runs Monday nights, at least for the next few months. Nurse Jackie airs at 10PM followed by United States of Tara at 10:30PM.