Spring 2013 Review: House of Cards

27 Feb

House of Lies as well

The show that House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey as House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, most reminds me of is the two season Starz show Boss starring Kelsey Grammar as the mayor of Chicago.  A good quick description would be a less ridiculous and extreme version of Boss, at least so far, though that’s not a very meaningful statement since it would be difficult to construct a more ridiculous version of Boss.  However, since only eight people in the world have actually seen Boss, I best elaborate further.

House of Cards, the first true Netflix original program, is all about about politics and power and comes from Beau Willimon, who is best known for writing the play Farragut North, later adapted into the movie Ides of March, which starred George Clooney and Ryan Gosling.  I don’t know how different the play is from the movie, but House of Cards seems like a more complicated version of themes touched upon in Ides of March.  Idealism is misplaced in a Washington D.C. political climate that revolves around power and sex, and while there are people who want to get good things done, even the relative good guys know that there’s a whole lot of dirty business that has to go on to make the smallest good thing happen even for just a couple of people.  Making the sausage is at its best an ugly process.

Frank Underwood is a player in a Washington world of those who are players and those who are played, and when the president, a Democrat who Underwood helped elect, turns him down for his hoped for promotion to Secretary of State, Underwood vows to reassert his power and make the president pay, politically.  Underwood knows how to work the system, and begins a working relationship with an ambitious young reporter (Kate Mara) desperate for news, feeding her leaks in exchange for her publicizing them and keeping him out of it.  Other characters include a philandering cokehead congressman from Pennsylvania and his hopelessly-in-love-with-him girlfriend employee, Underwood’s chief of staff, who gives him counsel and does occasional dirty work, and the president’s chief of staff, who so far seems to be always one step behind Underwood.

In a show like this, some of how I view the beginning will depend on how the show pays off on its set ups.  In particular, the plot revolving around Underwood’s wife  (Robin Wright), who runs a water related non-profit seems tertiary to the rest of the story, but I’m willing to give it some leeway if Willimon eventually brings us around to where this matters. It’s hard to see the connections just yet though.  Clearly, Russo, the drugged out Congressman, is going to play some critical part as well, but it’s hard to say what.  In the first episode, the pieces are laid out on the board, and we can take guesses, but it’s too far away to figure out exactly how many of them will be used and to what effect.

The other current show House of Cards reminds me vaguely is Game of Thrones, another show about struggles for power, and the gap between the players and the played, demonstrating the idea that today’s Washington politics aren’t worlds away from the feaux medieval power struggles of Game of Thrones (though hopefully without as many bodies).

It’s not a very funny show; there isn’t much humor, but it’s a relatively fun show so far, in that there’s an element of trashy sleaze that prevents it from being bogged down with the serious pretensions that sometimes drag down a show like Boardwalk Empire.  Spacey’s Underwood frequently interjects the story the talk to the camera, explaining how Washington works, and why he’s taking the action he is.  I’m not sure if these interjections are actually supposed to be funny; again, they’re not, but they keep the show relatively light for a show about these topics, compared to Boss as well, another show that seems to want to take itself so goddamn seriously.

I’d also be remiss not to notice that Kevin Spacey’s southern accent (He’s a congressman from South Carolina, already stretching reality, as a white Democratic congressman from the South), which I have no idea how authentic, is nevertheless slightly distracted; couldn’t he just be from Delaware or something?  Also, the first episode is directed by David Fincher.  I don’t have a lot to say about that right here and now, but it’s certainly worth noting.

Will I watch it again?  Yes, I’m in for more.  I’m not convinced it will be a great show, but it certainly has at least the chance to be a very fun show, but let’s hope the writers planned out the plotlines.

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