Winter TV First Impression: House of Lies

The broadcast and major cable networks have nearly two dozen brand-new shows (hopefully) heating up primetime this winter. To help you sort through it all, TVLine, as we did in the fall, is presenting a few First Impressions. Next on our list is.…

THE SHOW | Showtime’s House of Lies (premieres Sunday, Jan. 8 at 10/9c)

THE COMPETITION | CBS’ CSI: Miami, ABC’s Pan Am (finale airs early February)/GCB (premiering March 4), AMC’s Hell on Wheels (finales Jan. 15)/The Talking Dead (returns Feb. 12), HBO’s Angry Boys

THE CAST | Don Cheadle (Ocean’s Eleven), Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation), Dawn Olivieri (Heroes), Josh Lawson and others

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THE SET-UP | Cheadle is Marty Kaan, an elite management consultant for the No. 2 firm in the country. Bell, Schwartz and Lawson round out Marty’s team as Jeannie, Clyde and Doug, and Olivieri is Marty’s hard-partying, sex-crazed ex-wife (and professional rival). The weekly template finds Marty’s team “parachuting in” to help out an existing client or woo a prospective get, though the show is more about their banter (and bawdy antics) than the business. Along the way, Marty schools us on his tactics (or shares his woes) by “freezing” the action, Zack Morris-style, and talking to the camera.

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THE PROS | This is a generally “fun” show hung on an almost incidental workplace premise. Cheadle is likeable and believable as both a ridiculously successful ladies man and savvy businessman, while Bell and Schwartz stand out as his reports. (Bell’s first best showcase perhaps comes in Episode 3, when The Big Bang Theory‘s ‘Kripke’ [SPOILER]s her [SPOILER].) The guest casting is solid, including Richard Schiff (The West Wing) as Marty’s boss, Greg Germann (Ally McBeal) and TV’s increasingly omnipresent Anna Camp (True Blood).

THE CONS | The “freeze-the-action” gimmick is perhaps overused, to a point that it takes you out of the story and hurts momentum. The Showtime-style outrageousness sometimes feels like it’s done simply for outrageousness’ sake. (For example, alpha male Marty has a cross-dressing pre-teen son — oh, the irony!) This is not a course in management consulting; in fact, I imagine the show is grossly oversimplifying the business to the degree that Melrose Place famously dumbed down ad agencies.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE | House of Lies, with its ample nudity, sex and salty language, will be sufficiently “noisy” and draw some lookee-loos — especially during this, Showtime’s “Free Preview” weekend (though the full [if sanitized] episode can already be viewed here). In a time slot that is currently soft and is about to go through transitions (on ABC and AMC), it should perform just fine.

Watch a video preview for House of Lies, then vote in our poll below.