House of Lies is as brash and cocky as the management consultants it follows; it’s also filled with just as much bullshit. As Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle), the miracle-working closer for Galweather Stearn, puts it in one of the show’s patented asides to the audience: “Still don’t know what we do? Then I guess we’re doing it right.” While such nonsensical runarounds make for entertaining satire, they also make for a mess of a dark comedy, one that, now in its second season, feels the need to talk really quickly lest anyone realize it still has no idea what it is. Even the season premiere’s title gives a wink and a nod to this fact, as “Stochasticity” is nothing more than a fancy word for “randomness.”
On the business end of things, House of Lies stands firm: There’s nothing quite like watching Marty spin and spin until he reels in a potential new client—even when, as in “Stochasticity,” he doesn’t know who he is, what he does, or what he wants them to do. And the exaggeratedly fraternal (or “fuckternal”), male-dominated connections that lead to new business at least feel consistent within this ridiculously hard-boozing world (cue a montage of Marty and his back-alley dealmaker trading high-fives while tag-teaming various women in an attempt to get in good with the odious Vegas club owners). There are even some new counterpoints thanks to two ball-busting female additions to the cast: new interim CEO Julianne Hofschraeger (Bess Armstrong) and senior consultant, Tamara (Nia Long), a competitive college classmate of Marty’s.
Such extremes, however, clash with attempts to cast anything in a serious light. Although Kristen Bell is certainly capable of showing her career-focused character, Jeannie, breaking down after a series of poor decisions in her race to make partner, the fallout from last season’s debauched finale—in which Jeannie may or may not have hooked up with Marty and told him she loves him (neither of them can entirely remember)—is instead reduced to vomit- and urine-tinged flashbacks. And the travails of Marty’s “gender-fluid” son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.), are even more disconnected from the series than ever now that he’s moved back in with his sexually tumultuous mother, Monica (Dawn Olivieri). In addition to being unnecessary, these scenes are borderline offensive.
It’s telling that House of Lies’s highlights stem from the straight comedy: the off-plot banter between the members of Marty’s team, especially the stuck-up number-crunching Harvard graduate, Doug (Josh Lawson), and his disparaging nemesis, Clyde (Ben Schwartz). If the series consisted of nothing more than Office-level rivalries, putdowns, and dissections of buffet etiquette, it might be more consistently entertaining. At the very least, it wouldn’t be juggling so much dead weight: While it’s possible that Julianne passive-aggressively threatening Jeannine, Monica’s unexpected lesbian romance, and Tamara’s far-from-subtle subtext regarding Marty’s missed opportunities (with her, with his career) are leading somewhere, they’re so spread out across episodes that one quickly loses interest. These scenes come across as random bits of plot: meaningless data points, the sort of straw polls that Marty and his team attempt to spin into gold. (Given the strength of the cast and the weakness of the writing, these actors will all have Rumpelstiltskin syndrome should they make it to a third season.) Any sustained development seems to be more of an outlier than a trend. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.