“Utah” S1 / E5
- B- Community Grade
A few of the characters on House Of Lies have become problems. “Utah” works towards remedying that, but it doesn’t entirely succeed. The two biggest problem characters have been Clyde, who’s less “smarmy” than just straightforward “asshole,” and Monica, Marty’s ex-wife, who has been treated as a sociopath without much evidence of her evil. On the other hand, Marty himself has generally been portrayed as a good guy who occasionally does some fucked-up things, even as other characters tend to perceive him as a villain, a discrepancy which “Utah” works on by putting Marty largely on the sidelines.
Galweather’s team is sent to Utah to deal with a motel chain that has a conservative business model that keeps its customers happy and makes money at the same time, which makes Galweather’s job difficult. The CEO of the company is also a racist, which forces Marty to delegate to Jeannie for the consultancy. This works really well on two levels: First, it handles the racism with both humor and straightforwardness, and it also lets us see Marty in a more external fashion. The first thing he does is tell Jeannie not to fuck it up. Later in the episode, he tells her she’s fucking it up. After she succeeds, he comes over to tell her that she almost fucked it up.
There’s no real way around saying that Marty looks like a villain in a plotline. A more confident show than House Of Lies might be willing to just let his viciousness remain, but House Of Lies isn’t there yet. So there are two options: Marty could say that he was motivating Jeannie through reverse jerk psychology, which would be the easiest way out, and happily, not the one the show chooses. Alternately, the path the show does take is for Jeannie to tell Marty off. It’s always fun to see Kristen Bell in Righteous Fury mode, and she’s not wrong with her critiques of the man.
The other most successful component of the episode takes place back on the home front. With Marty out of town for business and his father also leaving town, they hire a babysitter, who is quickly supplanted by an embittered Monica. She has an entertaining confrontation with Jeremiah Kaan and then takes Roscoe on a vindictive journey to her boyfriend’s house.
I came to like Dawn Olivieri when she turned a nothing character on The Vampire Diaries into a decent presence, and she’s doing much the same here. So there’s a surprising amount of humor when she mentions golden showers to her son, and real, if slightly over-the-top pathos when explaining the beauty in the ugliness of a painting. The story doesn’t go very far, beyond encouraging Roscoe to enjoy his father’s company, but it does make Monica appear to be more of a person than a force of nature.
“Utah” does less well in dealing with Clyde. Like Monica, he’s placed in a situation where we see more of him than just his evilness, but the situation is, ah, just a tiny bit less conducive to humanization. One involves a mother realizing her self-destructiveness is incompatible with dealing with her son. The other involves the old “technical virgin” joke, as Clyde tries to hit it off with a Mormon woman who’s saving her technical virginity for marriage, but is delighted to have anal sex with random jerks who fly in for weekend, apparently. If that’s not enough of a throwback to the late 1990s, hey, there’s some Special K usage and joking as well. Topical!
Because this storyline relies so completely on a “trend” that I’m not sure ever actually existed outside of whispered jokes in high school hallways or ICQ chats logs, it’s impossible to take it seriously. There are few decent jokes involved, and the moment when the woman wanders off to the bathroom as sound effects play could have gone a lot worse. But it was just so contrived that it never had a chance to be good.
On a generally positive level, the actors and writers seem to be getting more comfortable with their characters. The rapport that the show has when it’s working is more common, and the awkward, plot-only scenes are being left behind. There’s definite improvement, but it’s gotta do much better, even at scatology, if it wants to be a great show.
- “Wikipedia, motherfucker!"
- “And you are the poster girl for narcissism.” “It’s because you want to fuck me.”
- “I might even be Jewish!” I enjoyed this subplot a lot, actually. It let the jokes flow, and worked with the characters as portrayed. Probably the funniest House Of Lies has been.
- “Oh, you’d be surprised how often someone’s trying to ‘jew him’ on the price.”