House of Lies Review: "Microphallus" (Episode 1.03)
“Microphallus” destroys the meager goodwill House of Lies earned from last week’s slight improvement. It’s an ugly, sordid, crass, cynical and entirely unlikable half-hour. The only two scenes that didn’t make me cringe involve characters angrily (and perceptively) telling the lead character off. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season.
“Microphallus” starts with a nightmare guest spot from Marty’s (Don Cheadle) dead mom, whose suicide obviously looms large in both Marty’s psyche and the overall arc of the show. It’s the anniversary of his mom’s death, and while Marty has the night sweats Roscoe is practicing his dougie and Marty’s dad is getting busy with a fellow retiree. Marty’s relationship with his family is often the only part of House of Lies that works, but this scene falls flat despite Donis Leonard Jr.‘s adorable dancing. It puts too strong a line under Marty’s mommy issues and also sets up a barely explored C-plot for Roscoe that uses his gender issues solely for quirk and laughs. It makes sense that a child of his age and persuasion would ask his parents for romantic advice about both girls and boys, but it’s mentioned twice in passing and treated like a joke.
Even worse: a bad recurring gag undermines some of the fine work House of Lies has done with Roscoe’s gender issues. Throughout the episode Clyde (Ben Schwartz) teases Doug (Josh Lawson) about hooking up with a transsexual, acting like it’s the most hilarious and embarrassing thing in the world that Doug would go home with a guy. Even though he’s confused and sometimes disappointed by Roscoe’s nature, Marty still strongly defends his son, but here he joins in on the parade of bad tranny jokes. Marty would absolutely rib a coworker as obnoxiously and persistently as possible, but everything about the first two episodes makes me think he’d be a bit more sensitive in this particular situation.
That lame sex humor recalls the lowest points of that bad first episode and foreshadows the main plot points of the even worse “Microphallus”. Marty’s team fly to Indiana to meet with the IBC root beer company. A couple of familiar faces pop up, with Alan Dale (Lost‘s Charles Widmore) playing IBC’s CEO and John Ross Bowie (from Childrens Hospital) as the CFO. Dale wants to implement a new computer system that will almost definitely ruin the company, while Bowie will do anything to stop it and save his job. Marty’s only goal: keep IBC alive and soak up as much money as possible. And of course that involves Marty and Jeannie prostituting themselves out to Bowie and his wife (A Serious Man’s Amy Landecker).
The deal: Bowie and his wife ask Marty and Jeannie (Kristen Bell) over for dinner, which basically means light bondage and a tiny bit of toe-sucking. While Marty takes care of Bowie’s wife he learns about the CFO’s microphallus, the bad joke that exists only to give this episode a title. This seedy and tiresome attempt at edgy sex comedy isn’t just unfunny and off-putting in and of itself; it’s also a far too blatant parallel between the “do whatever it takes to make money” mentality of management consultants and actual prostitution.
At least this entire ordeal leads to one of this episode’s two good scenes, where Bowie gets to be one of the only characters in the show to one-up Marty in a confrontation. At least it seems that way until we are reminded yet again that Marty is a master manipulator who always comes out on top when it comes to business.
Marty advises IBC’s board against the new system, but he’s hedged his bets either way. When Dale angrily fires Marty for not backing his plan, Marty calls up an old friend at Pepsi and strikes a quick but lucrative deal. When the new system tanks IBC, Pepsi will scoop it up for pennies on the dollar and sign up Galweather Stern for a lengthy exclusive contract.
Marty’s good vibes after landing his firm another multi-million dollar job are short-lived. Metro Capital, the mortgage company from the first episode, wants to buy Galweather Stern. That means Greg Norbert, the asshole exec who Marty brawled with in the first episode, and whose trophy wife left him after getting oral from the stripper who played Marty’s wife that night, is now Marty’s boss. That’s not good for Marty.
In the second of two tolerable scenes in “Microphallus” Marty’s boss, Skip Galweather (Richard Schiff), unexpectedly drops by Marty’s apartment after the Pepsi deal. Marty assumes Skip is there to congratulate him and that his boss will cover him from Norbert’s vendetta. Skip tells Marty that Norbert obviously wants to force him out and that Marty’s no-compete clause would keep him from working anywhere else for a while. Skip then quietly but effectively tears into Marty, telling him that, no matter how much business he brings in, Marty’s not good at his job because he occasionally makes enemies like Norbert. It took most of three episodes for somebody to acknowledge the ridiculous unprofessionalism displayed by Marty’s team throughout the show. Again, if your show is only good when your lead character is being told why he is so bad and hated, your show might have a problem.
After Skip leaves a shaken Marty calls up Clyde to go get wasted and forget his troubles. After raging hard in a club Marty impersonates a valet and steals a sports car. The episode ends with Marty blasting full-speed through a tunnel with a crazed look on his face and an absolutely freaked out Clyde at his side. So, yet again, House of Lies avoids any subtlety and literalizes everything. Marty probably doesn’t crash that car after the credits roll, but his show is a total wreck so far.