'The Firm' convoluted; 'House of Lies' a fun trip

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Big-screen movies inspire two new television series: one literally, the other thematically. Both NBC's "The Firm" and Showtime's "House of Lies" debut Sunday with mixed results.

'The Firm'

As pilot episodes go, the two-hour premiere of "The Firm" is a mess.

Based on the John Grisham novel and the 1993 Tom Cruise film of the same name, "The Firm" (9 p.m. Sunday, WPXI) tries to marry case-of-the-week stories with a conspiracy plot. It doesn't succeed.

The premiere begins with lawyer Mitch McDeere (Josh Lucas, who looks like a younger John Grisham) on the run from suit-clad thugs. They chase him past the Lincoln Memorial, and he runs through a reflecting pool in front of the U.S. Capitol before escaping in the bed of a pickup truck. Then he goes to meet a man who jumps off a hotel balcony to his death.

And then ... prepare to be bored. Granted, the show's early energy doesn't make a ton of sense (Why is Mitch being chased? Wouldn't U.S. park police have something to say about him wading through a pool of water on the National Mall?), but at least it has some action and intrigue.

What follows is a flashback to six months earlier and routine legal cases. There's a lot of exposition, which sucks away all that early oomph. "The Firm" collapses in on itself.

It's been 10 years since the events of "The Firm" movie, and Mitch, wife Abby (Molly Parker, "Deadwood") and their daughter have emerged from the Federal Witness Protection Program. Mitch has started his own small law firm, working with his investigator brother (Callum Keith Rennie, "Battlestar Galactica") and his receptionist sister-in-law (Juliette Lewis).

But then he gets a too-good-to-be-true offer from a large corporate firm with a shark-like leader (Tricia Helfer, "Battlestar Galactica"). Mitch makes a deal that will eventually lead him to the episode's opening scene.

There is a tie to that scene in the final five minutes of "The Firm's" premiere. It's just a taste of what's presumably the show's first-season arc. But after the slog through the middle section of the two-hour pilot, it comes as too little, too late.

After Sunday's premiere, "The Firm" will air regularly at 10 p.m. Thursday.

'House of Lies'

A better bet, if you have premium network Showtime as part of your cable package, is the network's latest comedy, "House of Lies" (10 p.m. Sunday), about immoral business consultant Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle, "Picket Fences"). He's sort of like George Clooney in the movie "Up in the Air" but less conflicted, the better to give the character somewhere to go on his multi-episode TV journey.

"House of Lies" is not a revolutionary show, but it is a fun study of men behaving badly. It's also a step in a different gender direction for Showtime, which has largely survived on half-hour quasi-comedies about women ("Nurse Jackie," "United States of Tara," "The Big C").

The series is based on the tell-all book "House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time" by Martin Kihn. The Showtime series features Kaan and his team -- Jeannie (Kristen Bell, "Veronica Mars"), Clyde (Ben Schwartz) and Doug (Josh Lawson) -- flying in to manage crises and advise corporate clients. In the premiere, they consult a mega-bank whose executives want to take their year-end bonuses without looking like corporate fat cats in the eyes of the public. Although Marty alienates one of the firm's top executives, it doesn't stop him from putting on a top-notch sales pitch.

The series also delves into Marty's home life, including a son (Donis Leonard Jr.), his father (Glynn Turman) and his ex-wife (Dawn Olivieri), who works for a rival consulting firm.

The supporting characters are less well-developed in early episodes. Jeannie seems to revel in keeping secrets from the rest of the team; Clyde appears to be a player similar to Jean-Ralphio, the character Mr. Schwartz plays on "Parks and Recreation," only slightly less buffoonish; Doug is sort of nerdy and disastrously pursues "So You Think You Can Dance" host Cat Deeley during an airport layover in episode two.

Written by Matthew Carnahan ("Dirt") and directed by Steven Hopkins ("24"), "House of Lies" features breaks in the action for fourth-wall-shattering explanations of business world jargon ("canceled out" is consultant-speak for "fired").

It's when the show depicts the characters as oversexed libertines that "House of Lies" seems most unreal. When the team visits a strip club in the pilot, you can imagine a human resources executive tsk-tsking them off-screen.

These exaggerations are excessive and unnecessary, detracting from the reality of the bizarre world of consultancy that doesn't really need embellishment to entertain in ridiculous high fashion.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published January 4, 2012 5:00 AM


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