The Anti-Hero and House of Lies

Posted Jan 12 2012, 8:30 am in , , , , , , , , ,

A new show started on Showtime this past Sunday. It airs right after one of my favorites, Shameless (which I posted about last week), so I decided to give it a shot. The show is called House of Lies and stars Don Cheadle as a management consultant. The show’s pace is fast and the characters are interesting, but I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll continue to watch and here’s the reason: I’m not sure I can get behind Marty (Cheadle’s character). Here’s a trailer for the show, but it is not safe for work:

For me, TV is mostly about falling for characters, so this is a sticking point. I spent some time thinking about it, which led me to decide that Marty is an anti-hero. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, I sought out what I thought would be the best definition. This comes from LearnHub:

Defining the Anti-Hero

The definition of an anti-hero can be subjective. He is usually the protagonist or a key character. Generally, an anti-hero will have the following qualities:

  • it is clear that he has human frailties; he has flaws
  • he is more accessible to readers because he is more “gritty”
  • he is often disillusioned with society, or increasingly becomes so
  • he often seeks redemption or revenge for his own satisfaction, and sometimes for the greater good of society
  • unlike the classical tragic hero, he doesn’t always think about what the right, moral thing to do – he often thinks about what’s right for him
  • he is often misunderstood by others in his society
  • he could perhaps be called a noble criminal or a vigilante
  • qualities normally belonging to villains – such as amorality, greed and violent tendencies – are tempered with more human, identifiable and even noble traits
  • their noble motives are pursued by breaking the law; a.k.a. “the ends justify the means”
  • increased moral complexity and rejection of traditional values

Now, I have absolutely nothing against the anti-hero. One of the best anti-heroes on TV right now is Dexter and I adore Dexter. Dexter is a serial killer who targets those who escaped punishment for their wrongdoings. He is a vigilante, but you see a softer side to him when it comes to his son and his sister. Also, he lives by a code where he needs to prove (to himself) that the criminal deserves to die.

The cast of characters from Leverage would also be considered anti-heroes. They steal. No matter how you slice it, what they do is illegal. This is mitigated by the fact that they commit crimes to help those in need. They fund their entire operation themselves, but it is with money gained from the first job they pulled together. Money from ill-gotten gains.

In looking at Marty and comparing him to the list above, I think my problem with him is that I don’t find much to like about him. I don’t see the bad qualities being tempered with good ones. I think the rest of the list suits him perfectly. I don’t see “increased moral complexity,” just amorality. And I’m not sure that’s enough to keep me tuning in.

Did you watch House of Lies? What did you think? How about anti-heroes — love ’em or hate ’em?



8 responses to “The Anti-Hero and House of Lies”

  1. We watched and while we liked the show, I can totally see your point. The protagonist isn’t really a likable character in the pilot, but the satirical view on management consultants and “big business” was very entertaining. We like Showtime’s original series for the shock factor, and House of Lies has promise.

    • They have the shock factor down, that’s for sure. I might tune in this weekend and see if I feel any better about it. The show was entertaining, but there are so many other shows that I watch that are both entertaining and have characters that I love, that I don’t know if I want to use my time on this.

  2. […] choice. Which got me to thinking. Some people might call Batman an anti-hero (which I talked about here). Maybe they’re right, but for me, he’s a broken hero or a tortured […]

  3. Gary says:

    I love stories like this. This one is particularly clever to me. It’s a complicated dichotomy where the writers are the heros of the story exposing the corrupt nature of American business practices. The antiheros in this story are, of course the consultant group managed by Marty but the brilliance of this story is the humanity within this group that puts you in the uncomfortable position of wanting to hate them for what they do but like them for their other attributes. It’s a very human story where nothing is truly black and white..

    • I agree, but I haven’t yet found anything in the characters to like. I do have to admit that I’m a couple of episodes behind, but there’s nothing likeable about their other attributes. Funny, entertaining, even compelling, but not likeable.

      • Gary says:

        Stay tuned… I suspect the writers will dig into Marty and his relationship with his son, and father and the suicide of his wife and the armor that he is put up to cope. They eluded to it last week.

  4. […] few months ago, I blogged about a new show, House of Lies. I liked the premise of the show and with it being on Showtime, I knew that there would be a […]

  5. […] all my talk about anti-heroes, I’ve learned a lot. You can read past posts here and here and some links to other people’s posts […]