House of Lies Review: "Mini-Mogul" (Episode 1.04)
Maybe there’s hope for House of Lies yet. “Mini-Mogul” isn’t great TV, but it’s also not nearly as embarrassing as last week’s “Microphallus”. It’s still incredibly smug, but “Mini-Mogul” is the first episode to offer more than a fleeting glimpse of recognizable and sympathetic humans, and this time those moments aren’t entirely due to a ten-year-old cross-dresser.
Roscoe is the most important part of this show. He could’ve been the worst sort of David E. Kelley-style quirk, but until now the only human moments on House of Lies have all involved Roscoe. In “Mini-Mogul” Roscoe travels to San Francisco on a work trip with his dad because his grandfather and mother can’t watch him. Once there Marty is too busy to spend time with Roscoe, who winds up hanging out with the rest of the team. Eventually Roscoe has a heart-to-heart with Doug, who’s basically a decent guy struggling to keep up with his coworkers in an asshole marathon. While splurging on a food truck buffet Roscoe asks for advice with his bully problem, and Doug tells a story about his own bullying, and how the bullies only do it because they’re jealous of them. Roscoe finds a friend in the consultant who’s least emotionally prepared for the moral degeneracy that apparently defines their work. The material might be a bit trite but it doesn’t come off as mawkish. It gives hope that Doug might actually grow somewhat as a character and fend off some of the bullying (however good natured) he currently endures from his coworkers.
But as I said, with “Mini-Mogul” House of Lies finally proves it can present compelling human moments that don’t involve young Roscoe Kaan. He had the best moments this week, sure, but “Mini-Mogul” shows that Jeannie is more than just one of the guys. She can be as two-faced and manipulative as Marty, but “Mini-Mogul” fills out her character by giving us a look at her private life. She’s engaged and keeping it a secret from her coworkers. This is revealed early in the episode when Jeannie has a brief scene with her fiancé in an airport. Their connection seems genuine, but as soon as she gets near her coworkers she slips the giant rock off her finger. Oh, and later on she hooks up with a random folk-singer in San Francisco.
Her infidelity doesn’t come off as malicious or predatory. She’s a confused (and probably depressed) woman unsure about the life she’s chosen to lead. She treats the hook up like it’s business, but the singer shoots through her defenses and calls her on her own inadequacies, leading to a second round of (no doubt more passionate) sex. As when John Ross Bowie and Richard Schiff saw through Marty last episode, it takes a minor character piercing the armor of a lead for us to care about anybody in this show.
“Mini-Mogul” isn’t entirely smooth sailing, though. Once again the client of the week brings out the worst of House of Lies. Marty and the team head to San Francisco to meet with the twenty-year-old founder of a top computer security company. The mini-mogul Alex is a Harvard-educated hacker who sold out on his anarcho-hacker beliefs to make millions. His company’s board wants to expand internationally without him, and he brings in Galweather Stearn to convince the board otherwise. From the extremely unpleasant Alex to the laughable secret hacker den he takes Marty to, everything about this storyline is aggravating. Thankfully the client is almost as minimized in “Mini-Mogul” as the basketball owners in episode two (which, in no coincidence, was the only other decent episode so far).
Like every client they’ve had so far, Alex is a total ass. He’s a stereotypical college aged internet millionaire with every possible douchebag signifier amplified to a cartoonish degree. It’s like the House of Lies writers thought the only thing cooler than Justin Timberlake in “The Social Network” would be a billion Justin Timberlakes in “The Social Network”. He’s a relatively minor part of this episode, but he’s intentionally or not he’s unbearably obnoxious in his few scenes.
Also obnoxious: the freeze frame returns in force during the first ten minutes. There’s also a bad visual gimmick with on-screen subtitles when Doug tries to follow Clyde’s advice and “be Clooney” while hitting on a coffee house cashier. Schtick like this still isn’t clever or funny.
Speaking of Clyde, the more he diverges from Parks and Recreation‘s Jean-Ralphio the more they resemble each other. Ben Schwartz is basically playing the same character, with the same speech patterns and horrible pick-up lines but with slightly more subdued hair. In this world Clyde successfully talks a hot TSA agent into bed and winds up with a not-so-private striptease on his cellphone. Jean-Ralphio is endearing because he remains optimistic even though he’s a pathetic failure. Clyde might be the most unlikable character in the show because he’s just a successful Jean-Ralphio.
Forget Clyde’s Axe-bro shenanigans and Marty’s drunken voicemails to his ex-wife. This episode belongs to Jeannie, Roscoe and Doug. If House of Lies can consistently make Marty as believable as these three it might not be a waste of time after all.