Thursday, February 27, 2014
House of Cards
I finished season 2 of the Netflix series House of Cards last night and I feel confident in saying that it's one of the best shows on "TV". Where they go from here I can only imagine, and we'll have to wait another year or more before season 3 premieres, but House of Cards is undeniably going to go down as a landmark show in entertainment history, and a creative solidifier for Netflix as a rival to HBO as the go to place for adult TV.
Adapted from both the British novel and BBC series House of Cards, the US version is the first production from Netflix (the previously streamed show Lillyhammer was produced independently and only distributed by the company) and they got heavy hitters like David Fincher, Kevin Spacey, Oscar-winning writer Eric Roth behind the scenes, with Spacey taking on the lead role in front of the camera, and playwright and screenwriter Beau Willimon as show runner. Netflix's research showed that the previous format of "Appointment TV", wherein each episode of a show created talking points for people to gather around the water cooler to discuss while they waited for next week's episode, was not necessarily what people actually wanted. Viewing trends showed that people liked spending an entire weekend watching a season of Breaking Bad or Lost or even comedies like 30 Rock or How I Met Your Mother. Netflix decided their model would be to release an entire seasons worth of episodes on the same day. So on February 1st 2013, season 1 appeared to great acclaim and viewership. On February 14th 2014, season 2 "premiered" to the same. Research even showed that more than 600,000 people binge watched the entire second season over Valentine's Day weekend.
Spacey's role as Congressman Frank Underwood is the role of a lifetime for him. Underwood is pragmatic, cold, and calculating, but with a southern boy's charm and snake oil salesmanship. Spacey's tendency to seem arrogant or smug fits perfectly the role and he's better in it than he's been in anything before. As his equally (or maybe even more) cold wife Claire, Robin Wright has not a speck of Princess Buttercup in her anymore. Frank says in the first episode "I love that woman. I love her more than sharks love blood" and I think the choice of comparison is telling with these characters. He didn't say "more than kids love candy" or "plants love sunshine". Along the way of the two seasons we also get a cavalcade of great characters ranging from Kate Mara's nosy and ethically bendable reporter Zoe Barnes, to Corey Stoll's recovering alcoholic Congressman Peter Russo, lobbyist and former Frank Underwood employee Remy Danton played to perfection by Mahershala Ali, Michael Kelly as Underwood chief of staff Doug Stamper, and a wonderful Gerald McRaney as billionaire businessman Raymond Tusk, with whom Frank has a developingly antagonistic relationship (as tends to be a theme with Frank).