For the purposes of this review, I marathoned both seasons of "House of Lies" in three days. Those who have already seen the first season will be aware, but "Lies" feels like the "Entourage" of management consulting shows -- scene after scene of either debauchery or double-talk. At its worst, "Lies" can come off as self-satisfied, a smug show that either mocks or outlines fairly easy targets. It's crude, somewhat sexist, faintly mean-spirited, and plays all of it for laughs. This season's prime example: an entire episode built around a celebrity cameo (which I won't spoil) that's basically one long softball joke at the expense of nobody in particular that spends half of its running time patting itself on the back for being clever and witty. There's also "Man-Date", featuring the Dushkin brothers (Evan and Taylor Hart) as clients, two assholes the show pokes fun at while somehow simultaneously ignoring and slyly agreeing the show's protagonists are just as awful.
That aside, this second season does offer some improvements over the first season, mostly by developing the relationships between the characters and offering more complex challenges for them. The first, of course, is the unresolved details of what went down after the first season finale between Marty and Jeannie, which, conveniently, neither character is able to remember. The simple answer would be that the pair had a one-night stand, but the writers up the ante with a far more intimate and troubling memory for Jeannie to chew over once it comes back to her. Although Marty is generally busy with some other catastrophe that's commanding his attention, and both characters are off on individual sexual misadventures, Jeannie's memory remains a clever ticking time bomb throughout the season.
The other ongoing thread is Marty's growing anxiousness to move onto the next stage of his career. Early in the season, Marty starts to think that maybe he'd be better off starting his own firm, and his increasingly divided loyalty to Galweather-Stern and himself provides a nice level of political complication. The show slowly ditches some of the Season One tropes -- unnecessary explanation of business terms and strategies, "client of the week" storylines -- and replaces them with a more fluid, ongoing story involving two casino moguls (Kevin Dobson and Mather Zickel) battling for control over the Vegas strip. The more obstacles there are for Marty, the more interesting "House of Lies" becomes, and he inherits these puzzles on top of his ongoing problems with his ex-wife Monica (Dawn Olivieri), his son Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.), and his father Jeremiah (Glynn Turman), as well as the introduction of his brother Malcolm (Larenz Tate), an activist who harbors a chip on his shoulder about Marty.
Comedies about smooth operators are a dime a dozen. Comedies about people stuck in a rut are even cheaper. During moments of this second season, "House of Lies" starts to peel back the superficial light-and-dark divide between the characters' fast-talking professional lives and train-wreck personal lives, discovering a gray area that's much more compelling. The season's best moments all arrive when Marty says or does something that genuinely can't be undone or maneuvered around, when the stress of constantly having all the answers starts to wear him down. The season's most complex episode, "The Runner Stumbles", finds Marty forced to choose between losing a client and backing a cause that actually crosses one of the few morality lines in his entire body. Lying is just what the show is about on the surface; for a moment there, Marty (a character so simplistic, the writers literally named him "Kaan") -- and the show -- encounters truth.
The Video and Audio
A promo for Showtime plays before the main menu on Disc 1.