House of Hong and House of Lies: A Delightful Merger


Last week, TV Dinner featured a new show that didn't quite manage to dazzle in its early stages, but it wasn't to give the impression this column has sunk into some kind of fortress of TV luddism or that there genuinely aren't any promising new shows debuting this season. On the contrary, shows like Luck or Smash, NBC's (next) answer to Glee, are positively tearing their way through the hype rounds. Besides these two monosyllabic founts of potential, Showtime's House of Lies has also stepped up to the plate in style with a fantastic cast, a fresh concept and snappy dialogue. To be paired with the management consultant drama is yet another jewel in the International District's crown as top neighborhood for Chinese take-out in Seattle: House of Hong.

The Cuisine: The International District's House of Hong is, above all else, a place for decadently greasy dim sum. Part of me didn't even want to feature House of Hong as part of this column, fearing that it would somehow encourage readers to pass judgment on the restaurant based solely on their evening entrees. Of course, I ended up relenting, reassuring myself in the fact that their dinners carry the same proud excess.

Their Mongolian Beef, for example, is a reliable take-out staple that House of Hong turns into a dinner worthy of a presentation outside of white paper boxes and hinged containers. Even after being left out for awhile and reheated, the beef maintains a consistent tenderness that frames its spicy sauce well, drowning out any nagging vegetables.

True to their dim sum specialty, House of Hong offers delicious, substantial sides well after lunch. The sesame seed balls are truly some of the best you'll find in Seattle, their gooey insides holding a ribbon of sweet bean paste. Their honey-glazed barbecue pork tasted a whole lot like any other well prepared barbecue pork, only with a sweeter aftertaste that I could've just been imagining -- although I'm not quite sure if this is always the case or they just got my order wrong.

Unfortunately, House of Hong's dim sum focus seems to cut both ways, as the restaurant currently has no options for delivery. Still, House of Hong has an earthy simplicity to it that keeps notably well as leftovers, rewarding your International District excursion with sturdy portions of unpretentious sodium-packed delight.

The Entertainment: House of Lies is the latest Showtime show to be adapted from a book about a colorful sociopath, but this go-around eschews the serial murder and vigilante justice for something suitable for the whole family: good old fashioned corporate greed. Don Cheadle and Kirsten Bell provide top billing for this trenchant look at management consultants in the thick of our latest financial meltdown, while Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh lends a brilliantly symbolic score that sounds like some inspired mixture of elevator music and the soundtrack to a hardcore porno.

While the show expectedly powerhouses its way through its storylines with a heavy-handed braggadocio and Alpha Male/Female douchebaggery that would put the not-so-dearly departed Entourage to shame, House of Lies is really at its best in the subtle, snarky breaths of air it takes in between pompous walk-and-talks loaded with indecipherable jargon.

Small details, like an off-focus, especially smarmy looking extra turning around and grinning when Don Cheadle shouts at his ex-wife which co-worker she's having sex with, give the show a much needed layer of depth that belie House of Lies' appearance of wading-pool shallow characters, management power fantasies and BUSINESS SHOUTING. There are consistent glances of three-dimensional characters and a unique voice, but they're usually steamrolled by the show's apparent need to maintain some superhuman pace as it stretches itself so thin you're waiting for something to snap.

Which leaves me torn on Don Cheadle's Saved by the Bell-reminiscent time-outs that seem to pop up just a little too frequently. The power over time and space that Cheadle gets as the show's narrator not only helps the audience understand some of that aforementioned management consultant lingo, but also helps situate us into the day-to-day life of an affluent misanthropist who's about as initially sympathetic as a bank error against your favor. On the other hand, nothing quite breaks up a snappy, Aaron Sorkin-esque pace like your main character periodically pulling you out of the momentum of the story to spit exposition and characterization at you -- even if the breaks from reality are becoming more and more seamless with each episode.

Breaking the fourth wall is all well and good, but there are just too many moments where it feels like the show is using it as a crutch rather than a magnifying glass. The narrative device might evolve or be reined in as the series progresses, but as for now it seems like the most problematic symptom of the show's phobia towards simply taking its goddamn time every once in awhile. It doesn't help that Ally McBeal alum Greg Germann is along for the ride from the very first episode, reminding long-time fans of any show that primarily involves filthy rich people talking fast and having sex with their coworkers of a time when this was all supposed to be shocking.

The Pairing: While House of Lies packs plenty of promise into its roughly 30 minute episodes, its hard to break into the show's manic state of mind. There are a lot of inspired, charming touches that are pretty evenly distributed throughout the show, which makes it watchable, but frustrating. On the other hand, House of Hong has established itself as a consistent, bold flavor that will help ground you where House of Lies befuddles.

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