House of Lies: What is a management consultant?

Management consultants aren’t traditionally good people. The Martin Kihn title, House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time, which provides the source material for the new Showtime series starring Don Cheadle, thoroughly explores that premise. But to enjoy the television show, that very premise may need to be explained to viewers. In fact, for many the logic of the show may need to even address a simpler question: What is a management consultant?

It’s not a stupid question ask. Their livelihoods rely heavily on their ability to exist within the ambiguity of necessity that comes from fiscal figures being high but not quite right. They seem to solve problems in some way. Or perhaps act as harbingers of problems. Or are they opportunists? Experts? Swindlers? Who knows? Consultants know and it is usually in their best interest financially to make sure you don’t. Consultancy in general isn’t typically even a career you see explored on the small screen or any screen for that matter. It’s used at best as a plot tool or a cheeky code word for a characters occupation or role. (Peter Bishop on Fringe was brought on board as a consultant for the FBI.)

Sadly, House of Lies isn’t really about the world of management consultants either. Not really. It purports to be but where there exists subtlety and nuance and intrigue in Kihn’s text and the industry itself, House of Lies asks us simply to find Cheadle endearing. Unlike the book, which argues a sort of malicious conspiracy orchestrated by management consultants, the show doesn’t implicitly define the industry, it chooses rather to rely on cliches to present a shoddy anti-hero in Cheadle’s character, Marty Kaan.

Kaan’s the head of a team from the #2 ranked management consultancy company in the country. He’s a bit of a womanizer, but a sympathetic one. He’s a single father struggling to raise a unique son. In the series premiere, Kaan anxiously goes up against his sociopathic ex-wife (his ascription) and somehow comes out on top, overcoming the greedy bank execs.

“Overcome” is perhaps too strong a word. Kaan makes a devious deal with the bankers after portraying them as corrupt, their image as tarnished, and their prospects as bleak, inextricably aligning the consultant’s amorality with that of the financial sector. But the problem is we know the story of the big bad banks, subprime loans, and the housing bubble. They’re not good people. But how do Kaan and his team fit into all of this? What is a management consultant? House of Lies won’t answer that very basic question for you in any meaningful way. The profession is treated unprofessionally (silly restaurant fights and the lack of anything that represents actual work); the supposed cynicism and amoralism of a show about corporate culture and greed and misdoings (with “Lies” in the title) is just insincere and impotent; and the plot just suffers because of this.

After one episode, House of Lies doesn’t seem to have the foundation to stand on its own. It needs to more effectively utilize the fodder of the real corporate world of management consultancy and not merely pretend to. Unless that’s the joke. The lie. The swindle. If so, lol. Kristen Bell iz hawt!

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