HOUSE OF LIES 1.02 ‘Amsterdam’

Marty Kaan and his team try to save a sports franchise. And Jeannie gets an unexpected surprise on her date.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Amsterdam"

Writer: Matthew Carnahan

Director: Stephen Hopkins

Two episodes into "House of Lies" and I'm still not sure if we're meant to despise Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) or admire his ruthless tactics. But one thing is clear: Marty is all about power and control.

In the opening scene at the restaurant, Marty uses his verbal skills to browbeat a potential client into signing with his management firm by making the alternative sound positively apocalyptic. Marty even admits to the audience that this just a tactic to force the man's answer to be "yes." But the client is so visibly disturbed by Marty's relentless tactics that it's almost a violation before he inevitably succumbs to Marty's pitch. 

And speaking of violations, Marty spots his evil ex-wife, Monica Talbot (Dawn Olivieri) at the same restaurant with a client of her own. And they are both so turned on by their respective actions that they have another bout of angry sex in the restaurant's restroom. At one point, Marty refuses to pull out when Monica tells him that she's finished, so she winds up choking him until the climax.

Clearly Marty and Monica are deeply broken people. It's hard to picture these two as a loving married couple. The physical attraction is obviously still there, but their sex is so aggressive that it borders on rape. Or a deadly game of autoerotic asphyxiation. Whatever it is, it's not healthy for either one of them.

Is it any wonder that their son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.) is so sexually confused? Whether Roscoe wears girl's clothing for attention or if he really is experimenting with his sexuality, Marty's refusal to engage with his son is only making the situation worse. Sure, Marty is willing to stand up to Principal Gita (Mo Gaffney) for Roscoe's right to wear whatever he wants at school. But Marty never asks his son why he's acting that way. That seems like a conversation that's overdue. 

The bulk of the episode is supposedly about Marty and his team attempting to save a troubled basketball franchise from impending bankruptcy thanks to an ugly divorce. Shades of the Dodgers, for all of you in Los Angeles. But the episode is really about two other things: Doug Guggenheim's (Josh Lawson) disastrous courtship of celebrity dance judge, Cat Deelay and the build-up to Jeannie Van Der Hooven's (Kristen Bell) date as well as the aftermath.

Doug's ill-fated attempt to woo Cat was pretty amusing and for the first time he actually came off as a viable character. Doug lived through the ultimate guy nightmare when his celebrity crush was definitely into him and he couldn't even bring himself to offer a proper introduction. Clyde Oberholt (Ben Schwartz) had a funny callback to that scene when he acted out his version of that courtship at length. But that scene did seem to play a lot longer than it should have.

As for Jeannie, her date turned out to be a corporate headhunter who wanted to offer her a high paying job at a much smaller management company. He even warned Jeannie that she would never make partner under Marty. And sure enough, when Jeannie's job offer suddenly goes away, Marty is almost certainly behind it. Marty verbally dances around this while trying to make the gesture seem like a compliment to Jeannie's skills. Weirdly enough, Jeannie smiles at this and she doesn't seem nearly as pissed as she should be.

For a strange aside, this episode also introduced The Rainmaker (Griffin Dunne), another legendary player within Marty's firm… and then the story gave him nothing to do for the rest of the episode. It was a nice touch that The Rainmaker was immune to Marty's ability to stop time and address the audience. But it still seemed like an odd way to break a character into a show.

Getting back to the basketball owner plotline, "Amsterdam" spent exactly two scenes with the owner while Marty's team searched through his hidden finances in the background. Marty's latest con wasn't nearly as entertaining as the slick presentation he made for MetroCaptial in the pilot episode. I get the impression that "House of Lies" may see diminishing returns on Marty's confidence man persona if he has to pull a fast one every time out.

I'm still on the fence about "House of Lies" as a weekly TV series, but this was more enjoyable than the pilot episode. There may be something here after all.

Crave Online Rating: 6.8 out of 10.