House of Lies Review: "Utah" (Episode 1.05)
Every episode of House of Lies ends with an ad for mobile apps that let you watch upcoming scenes on your tablet or cellphone. Who likes this show enough to download something like that? That’s more embarrassing than downloading one of those fart sound or zit-popping apps.
Last week’s House of Lies was easily the best episode so far. The week before and the week after were disasters. The first season is almost halfway through and there’s no reason to think House of Lies will ever become consistently watchable.
“Utah” is almost as awful as “Microphallus”. Marty (Don Cheadle) and the team fly to Utah to meet with a budget motel chain. The CEO, Brett Butterfield, won’t deal directly with Marty, because (of course) Mormons are racist. (Mormonism is met with endless derision and condescension in the world of House of Lies, as if the soulless assholes at the center of this show are better than Mormons or in any way recognizable or relatable.) Jeannie (Kristen Bell) takes lead and looks for a way to drag Stay Rite Motels into the 21st century while ensuring Galweather Stearn considerable afterwork. Meanwhile Clyde (Ben Schwartz) is scared off of anal sex with a foxy young Mormon because she ate a lot of corn at dinner.
Yeah, that’s a real storyline. Clyde woos a sexy Stay Rite employee and Doug (Josh Lawson) bets she’s a “technical” virgin who’s totally into anal. Clyde is absolutely down with that until he sees how much food she eats at a dinner meeting, subjecting us to comedy so ill-conceived that one can only wonder how any adult anywhere found it funny. The creators of this show really need to reassess their plans when an entire subplot revolves around what food a character is afraid might wind up on his dick. It’s just another House of Lies storyline that makes the creators look as crass, cynical and contemptuous as the show’s characters.
Meanwhile Marty hits it off with Stay Rite’s CFO, who’s a secret Jew lying about his Mormonism in order to keep his job. Together they get drunk and go nuts on Special K. The drugs don’t stop Marty from succinctly tearing into Jeannie’s plans for Stay Rite, which involve opening a boutique sub-line of affordable luxury hotels for the young and fashionable.
Back in Los Angeles, Marty’s ex-wife Monica (Dawn Olivieri) unexpectedly shows up to watch Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.) while Marty and his dad are both out of town. So far Monica’s been a misogynistic, one-joke caricature of a heartless gold digging shrew. She has no idea how to interact with Roscoe, who she openly mocked to Marty early in the season. Good television regularly mines drama and comedy from irredeemably horrible people, but there’s nothing entertaining or insightful about Monica’s particular strand of sociopathy. She’s a miserable cartoon and “Utah” miscalculates wildly by trying to make us feel anything about her emotional breakdown over the Egon Schiele painting that she steals from a negligent boyfriend (after breaking and entering with her ten-year-old son on a school night). And of course she makes a golden shower joke because this is House of Lies and the writers have even more contempt for her than the other characters.
Back in Utah Jeannie almost tanks her presentation. She saves it with Marty’s help, a story about Polaroid’s collapse and a tiny bit of blackmail against the Jewish CFO. Afterward Marty lights into her about how she almost lost the job, and Jeannie retaliates with an impassioned attack on how Marty has endangered all of Galweather Stearn with his personal provocation of Greg Norbert in the show’s first episode. This is perhaps the only scene of “Utah” that works, and that’s primarily because Kristen Bell has made Jeannie the only member of the team that we have any reason to care about. And again, seeing people tear Marty down is the one consistent pleasure in this show.
It’s easy to think House of Lies is a show without direction, but its problems have been so obvious and consistent from the start that there’s no reason to think this isn’t how its creators want it to be. The real question is why anybody would want to make this show.