'House Of Lies' Showrunner Matthew Carnahan Talks Jenny Slate Drama, Mekhi Pfifer's Guest Role And Writing 'Lovable A--holes'

"House of Lies" was never known for its relatable characters. Management consultants propelled by sex, liquor, drugs and, yes, money take advantage of their friends, family and each other. Don Cheadle's Marty Kaan is nobody's role model and Kristen Bell's Jeannie Van Der Hooven is not a woman whose professional demeanor you covet.

Yet, after the debut of Showtime's "House of Lies" Season 3 (available for free in the YouTube video below), viewers find themselves rooting for the decentralized management pod to get back together. "I think we’ve created an equal opportunity group of a--holes," Matthew Carnahan, the showrunner, said in an interview over the phone. "I’m hoping that they’re lovable."

Whether or not they're lovable may not matter this season. Carnahan hints that Season 3 might be the most shocking yet, with a story arc in which T.I. and Mekhi Phifer play drug dealers-turned hip hop entrepreneurs. According to Carnahan, some "really deeply f--ked up" stuff happens that forces the characters to turn to one another for solace.

Below, Carnahan opens up about writing honestly for Marty's son, Roscoe, a gender nonconforming teenager, Jenny Slate's cuckoo character arc and how one big event will rattle the show's foundation.

Will Jeannie and Marty reconcile?
Jeannie and Marty, they will come to a kind of detente fairly quickly in the first several episodes. But it will remain a prickly relationship for a while. Some really, really deeply f--ked up stuff happens that will drive them together or more together. But were it not for that, I think they would remain at an uncomfortable truce. But because things come so unhinged, they sort of take solace in one another eventually.

We learn something goes totally awry. Does it have to do with work or pleasure?
I would say it’s a work-related thing but it’s so extreme that it propels all of the characters in directions they would not otherwise go. It’s been a really exciting season to make because we just decided to do things that don’t happen in half-hour comedies. Then we did them, so that was really fun.

We're going to see a lot more of Jenny Slate. What's in store for her and Doug?
I can’t even begin to tell you what’s in store. But it’s really fun. The relationship between Jenny Slate’s character Sarah and Josh Lawson’s character Doug is such a bizarre relationship and it just gets more twisted when she decides they’re going to have a baby. She “pulls the goalie” without telling him, and there's chaos that ensues when they do that. Doug is less than enthusiastic about the thought of having a baby and ultimately causes a pretty big tear in the fabric of their relationship, especially with his new crush at work. We really get to see him be petty and anal and hypocritical and it’s my favorite Doug material certainly so far.

It seems like a lot of the women on the show are very successful professionally but are portrayed as over-the-top crazy in their personal lives.
I would argue that the men are exactly as ambitious, successful and crazy and we’re used to seeing women crazy but not successful and crazy. I think we’ve created an equal opportunity group of a--holes. I’m hoping that they’re lovable because we push how horrible they are pretty far and just hopes that it sticks. At least they’re authentically themselves, their horrible selves. In a way, Monica, the ex-wife character, gets to say and do all the horrific things that most businesswomen only fantasize about saying and doing.

The show's saving characters are members of Marty’s family, Roscoe particularly. How do you tread with his storyline?
We gave him a lot to do this year. We hired this amazing young actress, Bex Taylor-Klaus, who was also on "The Killing." She plays a gender nonconforming girl and they hook up and they find each other and it’s kind of great for a moment, but we really push that relationship as far as it’ll go. We really gave Donis Leonard, Jr. a ton of stuff to do around the relationship. His gender identity starts to become his sexual identity this season, which is new. That’s been really a challenge for him as an actor to embrace all of that and to take this relationship to places that are funny but also pretty uncomfortable and ultimately really charged emotionally.

How does this relationship affect Marty?
Marty’s undone by his son and how much he loves him. All of the posturing he does around the business world is just not possible around his son, so he’s reduced to being authentic and genuine with him. He’s given a black belt relationship with a gender nonconforming kid who is loud and proud and seems to know himself a lot better than Marty knows himself. I just really wanted to make Roscoe this kid who’s blessed with self-knowledge even at a young age. Even though he’s experimenting with what he looks like on the outside and who he’s attracted to and who he is on the inside, those things are in the process of reconciling themselves, he just has an authentic ability to love himself and to be generous of spirit.

house of lies marty family

Marty addressed race head on when he was beat up while running last season. Does that instance comes back at all?
We’re making a show about three generations of black men, which isn’t out there. We’re really excited to be making that, but at the same time, we want to do that without doing that. It’s a comedy and just the fact that that’s on television is already deeply political and deeply provocative in its own way. We don’t want to take that and then make a whole show about race. Part of it is that Marty is a top tier cut-throat management consultant who happens to be African American. That in itself to me feels like a mission statement.

T.I. and Mekhi Phifer play a pair of hip hop clothing entrepreneurs who come from a pretty dodgy background in the drug business. They have a very successful legit business but a very shaky foundation. They come into Marty’s life and we really use that as a platform to explore race and to explore class. These guys are ultra-rich and successful and still have a toe in the drug business. T.I.’s character takes them back to where he grew up and kind of pushes bourgeois Marty’s face in it. He uses him as a way to punk Marty, who grew up as a son of academics and much more privileged. We have a number of episodes that touch on this stuff and touch on the friendship between Mekhi Phifer’s character and Marty. It’s kind of an amazing storyline just because these actors are so good.

Is that toward the end of the season?
It really runs. Don directed the fourth episode and in that episode we introduce these guys and they’re in all the way almost through the whole season near the end of the season.

Do they have anything to do with this big hubbub that you were talking about?
They just might.

"House Of Lies" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. EST on Showtime.

Want more? Check out photos of "House Of Lies" Season 3.



"House Of Lies" Season 3