Published on White Coffee Magazine
In the world of television programming, as the fall semester ends, House of Cards is a welcome treat for those drama blues. The timely release of this show means that you have something good to sink your teeth into while you wait for Mad Men, Game of Thrones and Nurse Jackie to bless your screens.
House of Cards is a political thriller developed by Beau Willimon and distributed by Netflix, who surprisingly chose to release the first season in its entirety on February 1, 2013. The show is an adaptation of the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, which was itself an adaptation of the novel by Michael Dobbs. The series depicts the fictional world of current politics in the U.S, as manipulated by Frank Underwood, a democrat and the House Majority Whip. After being passed over for promotion to the Secretary Of State, Underwood decides to wage political war against the newly elected president. Playing the role is Kevin Spacey, who embodies the spirit of malevolence like a veteran. But there is a suave, smooth talking nuance that he brings out in this role, the likes of which haven’t been seen before. Spacey expertly transforms from ruthless politician to smooth-talking, wheedler of information and trust, without so much as the batting of an eyelid. He is ambitious, menacing and clever enough to be successfully so. Occasionally, he breaks the fourth barrier and talks directly into the camera, sometimes thinking out loud to it in the middle of a conversation. And this is when he’s at his delightful best as he explains just how he’s going to exploit someone before he does it, somehow managing to hoodwink the viewer too.
Alongside Underwood is his wife Claire. The show’s refreshing portrayal of a politician’s wife is laudable. She is not merely his support system but an equal partner in crime. As an activist, she has no qualms about playing dirty if it’s for the greater good and often uses her husband’s political power to achieve her goals. Robin Wright brings a quiet power and a powerful grace to the role of Claire Underwood. This compliments the characterization of Zoe Barnes who is a transparently ambitious political journalist. It is sometimes difficult to understand if her naivety is part of her cunning or just an unfortunate side effect of her youth. Either way, Kate Mara is an interesting choice for the role, as she slips every now and again but shows sparks of genius, both as herself and as Zoe Barnes.
The first two episodes are directed by David Fincher and he rejoices in the thick, dark, steely visuals of the political surroundings that are equally jaundiced. House of Cards is doused in cynicism, manipulation and infinite ambition that is often rewarded. Nevertheless, the candid portrayal of such a sullied political system is oddly comforting if you appreciate that brand of transparency.
Compared to the cinematography, the dialogue is less consistent in its brilliance. There are instances where it falls a little short of the power in the scene, and is overly taut. The plot line in itself is a familiar one, but what the actors bring to the story is so remarkable that it’s impossible to walk away from the show without having your mind semi-blown – in the least. It is definitely a character driven show and the characters have been written well. House of Cards is just another example of how television can be done well and can be considered artistic, a description that has avoided the small screen until fairly recently. There is more room for characters to grow and Fincher has shown that television direction and cinematography can be as exquisite as seen in film.
While Netflix has exclusive streaming rights, the good news is that they’ve bought two seasons, sight unseen, giving the show more continuity. This is definitely one for the roster.