The CarusometerA Carusometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: House of Lies (Showtime)

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime
In the UK: Acquired by Sky Atlantic

Do you miss pilot movies? I miss pilot movies. Time was, you could set everything up for a TV series at a decent speed in an hour-and-a-half long movie. But you can’t these days – now you have to squeeze everything into an hour, or in the case of House of Lies, half an hour, hope that people like that enough to keep watching, then put everything you left out into the second and third episodes.

Trouble is, that’s going to give people a misleading impression of the show and they might not like all the fireworks you’ve had to add to get their attention.

So, in case you’ve forgotten already, House of Lies is a supposed insight into the world of management consultants that stars Kirsten Bell and Don Cheadle. And its first episode wasn’t very good: neither insightful nor funny, full of sex for sex’s sake, and locker room talk that made it clear that women weren’t welcome.

Since then, the show has simmered down. It’s got us by the balls and but it doesn’t want to knock them for six. It wants to play with them for a while. And it’s all the better for it.

Characters other than Don Cheadle get a look in; the relentless locker-room talk is mocked; some actual management consultancy is performed; the pitches to camera by Cheadle are now quite clever; there’s an ongoing story arc about the firm based on events from the first episode; it does have some really quite nice Machiavellian moments; and Richard Schiff has turned up as corporate Toby from The West Wing to be the boss. It’s actually a much more watchable show.

What we have now is a bunch of four people who spend all their time taking the piss out of each other, while skiving off proper work, trying to get as many freebies as possible and trying to shag everyone – possibly the closest America is ever going to get a British workplace environment. While it’s not really a subtle show, it’s no longer the insult to the intelligence the first episode was and it’s almost enjoyable. Worth a try from about episode two onwards, I reckon.

Carusometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will probably last a season, but not much more


Review: Alcatraz (Fox) 1×1-1×2


In the US: Mondays, 9pm ET/PT, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Watch

A year ago, JJ Abrams had two shows on the air: Lost and Fringe. Lost, of course, was a story about a mysterious island that could cause people to travel through time; Fringe, which is still running on Fox, sees a group of federal agents (and a civilian weirdo), investigating strange crimes and criminals operating at the fringes of science.

If you were going to predict JJ Abram’s next show, only in wildest cynical pastiche would you have come up with Alcatraz, a show about a mysterious island that causes people to travel in time while a group of federal agents investigate strange crimes and criminals.

Yet here it is on Fox. It’s even got Hurley (Jorge Garcia) from Lost as one of the leads, as well as that nice Sam Neill from Jurassic Park. The basic plot: the Alcatraz prison wasn’t actually shut down because of lack of money, but because every single person in the prison, warden and prisoner alike, disappeared one night back in the 60s. Now, one by one, they’re popping up again, not having aged a day, and the government wants to find out why and stop them from committing any more crimes now they’re free.

And to nobody’s surprise, it’s not even half as good as Lost or Fringe. Here’s a trailer.

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Review: Are You There, Chelsea? (NBC) 1×1

Are You There Vodka?

In the US: Wednesdays, 8.30pm EST, NBC

The big four American TV networks have something of an alcohol problem. Or at least a problem with alcohol. In any given TV show, anyone shown to be drinking a lot or generally having alcohol-related fun must have a problem and they need to give up alcohol ASAP if they’re to get their life into gear.

Who knows what would happen if they ever remade Inspector Morse.

The last time the networks had a go at a show about people who quite liked drinking, it was Showtime’s Shameless remake, in which Frank’s drinking is the root of all evil (although he’s not much better off the sauce, addmitedly). And before that, it was the “anything but” Happy Hour on Fox.

Now NBC is trying to make a comedy based on talk show host Chelsea Handler’s autobiography, Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea. And that’s what the TV show was called until very recently, until it was nonsensically renamed Are You There, Chelsea? (because having vodka in the title would put off viewers, apparently.) In it, a thinly veiled version of Chelsea Handler (who actually plays Chelsea’s born-again Christian sister in the show) works in a bar and tries to navigate through the complexities of work, boyfriends, friends and family while repeatedly getting rat-arsed – and everyone telling her she has a drink problem.

Here’s a trailer. It’s from the now almost-completely reshot pilot. If you’re in the US, you can view a proper trailer after that, too. Neither will make you laugh.

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Preview: House of Lies (Showtime) 1×1

House of Lies

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime. Starts 8th January 2012

So you want searing, laser-sharp insights into the world of management consultants, do you?
Oh boy do I want them!

Well, let me tell you a few home truths then.
Sock it to me, baby!

Some of them lie.
No, really!

Some of them make it up as they go along and use jargon to baffle people.
You don’t say!

Some of them just tell their clients what they want to hear so they keep getting paid stacks of money.
Well, that’s outrageous! Thank you, revealer-in-bold-of-these-secret-truths.

Actually, did anything RIBOTST just say come as news to you? Probably not. Which is probably why Showtime’s supposedly searing, laser-sharp insight into the world of management consultants, House of Lies, which stars Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell, mostly falls flat.

It’s going through the motions of satire. It’s trying hard to tell us new things. But it’s like a ‘Dick and Jane’ book when everyone’s already gone to college.

Having said that, if you just want a show in which a load of deeply unpleasant people get portrayed as deeply unpleasant and having a mostly crappy life (apart from their vast salaries and jet-setting lifestyles), then House of Lies might have something to offer you. Well, that, misogyny, nudity, topless pole-dancers and lesbian sex in toilets. In that order. Here’s a trailer.

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Review: Work It (ABC) 1×1

In the US: Tuesdays, 8.30/7.30c, ABC

So this is it? The first new show of the New Year and this is what ABC throws at us? That’s kind of like saying "Merry Christmas!" to someone and having bubonic plague pustules rubbed in your face as a reward. In fact, ABC should probably have to pay people to watch this, in part to afford the shots they’ll need, such is its mesmerising, terrifying, pus-ridden awfulness.

Now, as mentioned last year, one of the big trends of the Fall 2011 season was "sitcoms that deal with the (alleged) difficulty of being a man in the 21st century". We started on a relative high note with How To Be A Gentleman, before slowly moving down through the various circles of Hell that were Last Man Standing and Man Up!. Now, though, like Dante, we have made it through to the ninth circle and we are staring into the three treacherous faces of Satan.

We have reached Work It.

Work It sees a bunch of unemployed men theorise that women ‘have it all’ in the modern job market, so to get jobs, they dress up as women. And watching it is like being deprived of God’s love for 30 minutes, although it will feel like eternity.

Cue the trailer.

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