‘House of Lies’ Season Premiere Review: “Creative Destruction Phenomenon”/“Game Theory” (Season 5 Episodes 1 & 2)

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When we last left Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) and the gang on “House of Lies,” they were just rebounding from a semi-hostile takeover by Denna (Mary McCormack), who, to be fair, did save Kaan & Associates from their eminent demise when a deal with the fair-weather investor Ellis Hightower (Demetri Martin) fell through because that guy was kind of a piece of work and a raging, self-serving douchebag.

Of course, most everyone in this show fits that description more or less, but still, Hightower did renege on a million-dollar deal that wouldn’t have been possible in the first place without Kaan and his team’s help, so yeah, he had that payback coming. Denna was a little trickier, as she did do Marty a solid on the one hand, but then she did sort of pull rank on him in a nasty sort of way when she basically screwed him out of his entire clientele by trying to force him to go with bigger name clients.

As bad as that was, Denna exposing his kid, Roscoe (the indispensable Donis Leonard, Jr.– easily one of the most well-rounded and complex gay/bi/trans characters on TV) to his principal as the actual culprit behind a hate crime that was allegedly meant towards Roscoe himself was really low.

Although, it did lead to one of the all-time best moments on the show, when grandfather Jeremiah (Glynn Turman) took Roscoe to task for using his own identity as a tool to manipulate the system for his own personal gain. That speech Turman gave was perfectly pitched and really needed to be said as, given all the leeway Roscoe is given where many parents/relatives wouldn’t have been nearly as supportive, to do what he did was admittedly unconscionable.

Marty naturally struck back immediately, eventually leading Denna to drop Kaan like a hot potato, cost to her be damned. With that, all Kahn needed was a letter of intent to be signed by the clients who were willing to stand by him and all would be well. In last season’s finale, he managed to do just that in record time- and just in time to witness the birth of his child.

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However, as dubious as things started out in this new season, it’s a damn sight better than where they began last season, with Marty in jail because of Jeannie (Kristen Bell) and her actions and the future of the company in doubt. To make matters worse, Jeannie also lied about Marty being her baby daddy for a considerable amount of time.

As such, Marty had told Jeannie she was out just as soon as the company was back on its feet, but even so, he was coming around towards the end of the season, not only telling her she could essentially stay, but showing up for the birth of his baby to boot. It seemed as if things were well on the way to being back on track, but in Season 5, we see that they are once again in disarray, albeit briefly, from the looks of things.

As Jeannie mentioned on the season finale of last year, she had decided to take the job as Chief Financial Officer of a pharma group- okay, they were technically more of a company that specialized in erectile dysfunction pills, but still- which had led to Jeannie abandoning ship just as it seemed complete reconciliation, and maybe even a renewed relationship with Marty was a distinct possibility.

We began with Jeannie doing the CFO thing, sometime after her baby was born, and with her life seemingly on the upswing in every way. She has her own office, a nanny at home, a new boyfriend, Mark (newcomer to the show Ken Marino, of “Children’s Hospital”), and looks to be on top of the world and doing just fine without Marty and company.

Thankfully, she’s still working with Kaan & Associates, who work their magic for her own employers, with a little help from her, of course. We even get to see her do a hilarious hip-hop routine, with the other high-ranking members of the company in a big presentation. Yep, you get to see Anna from “Frozen,” aka “Veronica Mars,” rap and dance, and it is every bit as awesome as you would want that to be.

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Marty says it best when he says: “I have seen the soul of white people- and they should put it back.” Lol. Be that as it all may, it doesn’t mean Jeannie has lost her sharp wit or is completely without fault- at one point she actually tries to breast feed the wrong baby at the day care center before realizing that it isn’t even her baby! (“See? This is what I’m talking about,” says a snarky Doug. “This is why they can’t be president.”)

But is it all a front? Or is Jeannie truly able to “have it all”? As we find out in episode number two, looks may be deceiving. It turns out that Mark is actually a conman of sorts, using Jeannie to cash out and get a bigtime payday when he accuses her of sexual harassment! The interview clips with Jeannie talking to Human Resources to defend herself are priceless and fantastically filthy. My favorite: “Phoebe is my daughter, not my vagina. I think we’re done.”

Alas, by the end of the episode, Jeannie has been laid off by the company, with her boss, Teddy (Simon Templeman, “The Neighbors”) using it an opportunity to take the credit for a big deal that Jeannie basically made happen, albeit behind his back when he ignored her advice. Jeannie sees it as karma for her past actions, but she’s no worse than anyone else. The team, naturally, sees it as an opportunity to poke relentless fun at her, which was good for a few laughs as well.

Meanwhile, the team is faring slightly better, though Clyde (Ben Schwartz) is still reeling a bit from more or less having caused his own father to have a heart attack, and Doug (Josh Lawson) is still upset and more than a little jealous that his ex, Kelsey (Valorie Curry), essentially chose Clyde over him.

Marty himself has taken up with a hot-but-vacant vegan health nut, Klare (Nicky Whelan, “Matador”), who’s a huge Instagram star that loves posting New Age-y musings and sexy pictures, which everyone takes much amusement in. Jeannie puts it best: “[Klare] is like Buddha, if Buddha’s observations came with sexy shots of himself cresting Runyon Canyon in booty shorts.”

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The team’s latest target is Tess (Brianna Baker, “Chicago Fire”), who is in Doug’s Dungeons & Dragons playgroup and he didn’t even realize was a hugely successful businesswoman until Marty recognizes her and demands to come to the next game of D&D to pitch himself to her. Of course, Doug wants to do it himself, but Marty insists, leading to an amusing bit of business where Doug has to teach Marty the D&D basics. Ultimately, in a rare win for Doug, who is easily the most likable of the bunch- not that it’s saying much- he’s the one that ends up recruiting her after Marty fails miserably to fool her into thinking he’s into D&D for real.

This also leads to some ribbing from Jeannie, when she comes over to Marty’s with Phoebe for a visit: “You’re playing Dungeons & Dragons. You got rejected by a girl. You’re like, some headgear away from getting the sh*t kicked out of you in a John Hughes movie.” Lol. Good to see that the two are essentially co-parenting Phoebe, though. Can a reconciliation of another kind be far away, now that both are free agents again? (Things go south for Marty and Klare as well.)

On the Roscoe front, though we don’t quite hear where he’s going to school now, he does seem to be doing better and has converted to the “Straight Edge” movement, which I myself was part of once upon a time. For those who don’t know, it basically means no sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.

I definitely got a chuckle out of Roscoe quoting the punk band Minor Threat, who were the main instigators of the movement back in the day, though the likelihood of Marty being familiar with the band is a little dubious. “Why quote Schopenhauer when you can quote Minor Threat?” he says, which is a great line, but yeah, a little on shaky ground there. Schopenhauer I believe, but Minor Threat? Somehow I can’t see Marty rocking that band back in the day no matter how rebellious he was. His brother, Malcolm (Larenz Tate) maybe, but not Marty.

Jeremiah has taken up with a new girl, perhaps in reaction to Malcolm coming onto his old one in a previous episode. Sad to see Chantelle (Alice Hunter) go, but very happy to see the hilarious Wanda Sykes join the cast in her place, who makes a memorable entrance scaring the bejesus out of Marty late at night in his kitchen.

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Sykes is just one of several other funny faces that will be joining the show this season, which also includes Keegan-Michael Key (“Key & Peele”), Ed Weeks (“The Mindy Project”), John Cho (the “Star Trek” movies), Glenn Howerton (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), Donald Faison (“Scrubs”) and Malcolm Jamal-Warner (“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson”).

The second episode also marks the return of an old familiar face, Richard Schiff (“The West Wing”), as Galweather, the exec Marty royally screwed over way back in the first season, who has apparently rebounded nicely and is working for the Kohl Brothers, which one assumes is a thinly-veiled version of the Koch Brothers.

It seems they sent Galweather to make Marty an offer he can’t refuse to buy him out, which he does in fact, refuse. I think it’s safe to say we haven’t seen the last of him yet, though. I did enjoy the detail that Doug took over ownership of the briefcase that Galweather took a dump in after Marty understandably gave it up for obvious reasons. “Well, it’s a good briefcase,” Galweather says, in Doug’s defense- about the only thing the two end up seeing eye to eye on.

All in all, it was a solid two episodes so far, and I like the essential set-up, even if they are treading somewhat familiar waters this time around. I do think it was a good bit funnier than the show has been in a while, with some great lines and less in-fighting amongst everyone, which was what really dragged the last season down big-time.

Though Jeannie has yet to return to the group, she’s around just enough to have some great interactions with them, and a lot of this felt like the more fun early seasons of the show, which was nice. There are signs that she may well find her way back to them, so we’ll see, but in the meantime, the baby connection doesn’t hurt, and I love that Jeannie is a bit dubious in her parenting skills, like when she tried to breast-feed the wrong baby!

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Though I suppose the addition of so many well-known guest stars could be seen as a mark of desperation on the behalf of the show, I’ll hold my reservations until I see how they are used and if it adds anything positive to the proceedings. So far, Sykes has easily been the best new addition to it, with the others (Marino, Whelan and Baker) being kind of hit-and-miss, though Whelan is nothing if not easy on the eyes, that’s for sure.

That said, I’m liking the new season so far, and I laughed out loud already far more than I did last season, and we’re only two episodes in, so that’s a good sign. I’d also really like it if Doug got a decent girlfriend for once, as he hasn’t exactly had the greatest track record in that department and that seems to be where they’re headed with Tess. (With apologies to Jenny Slate, who I generally love, but her character on the show was sort of grating.)

All in all, so good so far. What did you think of the first two episodes of “House of Lies”? Did you appreciate the lighter touch? Were you happy to see the gang essentially back to their old antics? Did you have a favorite line I missed? (There were quite a few good ones!) What would you like to see happen over the course of the season? Any predictions? Sound off down below, and join me again for a check-in later on in the season!

  • Clifton Maclin

    So far so good, especially since at the end of episode 2, Marty is actually shows he really cares about and for Jeannies. He is gentle and protective. He actually seems to be trying to show Jeannie he loves her, without being pushy.

  • Clifton Maclin

    One other thought: Can you please explain the logical disconnect in the Marty and Jeannie’s relationship from the last scene of season 4 and the first episode of season 5. I know I’m not the only HOL’s fan to complain about this discontinuity. It is both confusing and disappointing. Something very significant had to have happened to explain Marty and Jeannie’s estrangement, and their sudden unexplained new intimate relationships. Thanks for your attention to my request.

    • Mark Trammell

      What I got out of it- and I did re-watch both episodes back-to-back before the premiere- is that Marty had finally turned a corner on his feelings about Jeannie and was ready to do something about it, hence his rushing to be with her when she gave birth. However, when he gets there, she almost immediately tells him, practically as she’s giving birth, that she’s going to be leaving the company, as per his request up until that point, and taking the job as CFO offered to her.

      Now, granted, he did sort of imply that maybe he was too hasty in asking her to leave the company once they were back on their feet again by asking her to stick around a bit longer after initially telling her she couldn’t even stick around until the baby was born, but he never officially welcomed her back, either.

      I think he was planning on doing just that, in light of the positive turn of events on the finale, only for her to tell him she’d decided to take the job. Marty being Marty, this was all that he needed to back off of his impulse to invite her back officially. (And also to abandon any immediate hopes of getting romantically involved with her again.)

      But you’ll also note that things are clearly in a better place for them even before all the sexual harassment stuff happens, as they are clearly somewhat co-parenting the child, as evidenced by her visit to Marty’s and continued involvement with his family, which she didn’t have to do.

      I think that they will absolutely find themselves going back to one another, this time for real, as they were never really an “official” couple, but that it will take some time, which actually seems realistic to me, given all that has transpired.

      • Clifton Maclin

        I totally agree with your analysis, particularly from Jeannie’s behavior which suggests she is very concerned with what he is doing with his love life, and definitely not approving of it, though she feigns acceptance with a look lke she want to vomit at the mention of Klare’s name.

        • Mark Trammell

          Understandably! (Wacky spellings of “normal” names is one of my pet peeves, lol, so I may be biased.)

          Also note that she expressly follows his GF’s Instagram to make fun of it, and has even drafted the other guys into doing so, knowing they will do the same in her absence, which naturally they did.

          • Clifton Maclin

            Mark,
            I also think that Jeannie’s behavior in these circumstances is almost stereotypically female. I would no tbe surprized if she makes Marty twist in the wind a bit just to show she can before she allows him to sweep her off her feet. It;s like the “Taming of the Shrew.”

      • Clifton Maclin

        Mark, It appears your analysis is working out. In episodes 2-4, Marty and jeannie are getting closer, approaching something like commitment. The one plot line that still has me wondering is in episode 6 Jeannie apparently gets involved with Clyde’s politician friend for reasons yet to be revealed, though that relationship is supposed to end during episode 8. Part of what confuses me is why the writers of HLO’s need to create these deadend relationships at all. They just make the story line needlessly convoluted. It is also fascinating that Marty is no longer having a series of meaningless sexual relationships, and is actually increasingly protective of, and kind to, Jeannie in a way he has not done in the past. Also did you notice the little dungeon and Drangons statues at the end of episode. They appeared out of no where. I loved that Marty acted to protect Jeannie when he did not have to, and she did not expect his intervention. The next thing I hope Marty does is let Jeannie sleep on his office couch the next time she stretchs out. He should let her mark a little territory on his turf. (smile)