When Netflix announced it was nearly doubling its rates by separating its by mail DVD service from the instant streaming, they claimed the additional revenue would be used for two purposes. The first purpose was to purchase better content (I’m still waiting on that one to come to fruition). The second was to venture into creating original material. Lilyhammer, the first such attempt, was mostly a flop. It was a story about a mobster in witness protection played by Steven Van Zandt. Van Zandt played basically the same character he played on the Sopranos and the six episodes set Netflix, and probably original streaming content, back about two years.
Netflix has become something of a misleading name for the company as almost 60% of its available content and the vast majority of its new content comes from broadcast television. Currently, the provider is producing a return of the ground-breaking situation comedy Arrested Development. Much to the delight of its die-hard fan base, new episodes of the show FOX seemed determined to cancel will begin airing this spring (though, I guess “airing” is an outdated phrase now). Netflix will make a full season of content available on the first day.
It has done the same with the new drama House of Cards.
House of Cards, based on the BBC series of same name, is a political thriller that opens with a new president taking office. It’s obviously fiction, because the new prez is moderate.
The president-elect is expected to nominate Majority Whip Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, for secretary of state… but, he doesn’t. Considering himself “in the know,” Underwood is shocked to learn he won’t be nominated to the post.
Underwood sets out to destroy the secretary of state nominee by drudging up a less than flattering story written for his college newspaper. The senator then uses a young contact from the press named Zoe Barnes (played by the lackluster Kate Mara) to push the story beyond a single news cycle. In doing so, Underwood ensures the nominee will be forced to decline the post. This allows Underwood to place someone loyal to him within striking distance of the president.
Underwood is a borderline sociopath who has his hands in everything in Washington. People are simply assets to him in his gradually unfurling quest for the White House.
While glad-handing and schmoozing with everyone he encounters, Spacey’s Underwood tells us his true feelings and ambitions by way of asides with the audience. Underwood uses Barnes, the reporter mentioned above, to exploit the 24-hour news cycle and Twitter-verse to serve his purpose. He makes use of the congressional gridlock and partisanship to shame dissenters.
The dynamic between Underwood and his wife, Claire (played by Robin Wright), is by far the most interesting part of the series. They have an open marriage — provided they are honest with one another. Though, it’s interesting to note that this is one of the few areas that they are actually honest about. She uses his connections on the Hill (do real people ever call it that?) to further the efforts of her nonprofit. When their ambitions are at odds, the sparks really begin to fly.
House of Cards is a murky depiction of our current situation in Washington. Everyone is dirty or waiting for the opportunity to be dirty. The scenery is dark and dreary. In the fictional DC, it is always raining or about to. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the show is aptly titled and far more functional than Netflix’s recommendations algorithm.
Seriously, how do they get that? Just because I enjoyed Ken Burns’ Baseball, they think that I would enjoy Jackass 3? Is there a place where I can input my IQ in order to stop them from suggesting professional wrestling titles? Sorry, I just got a little off topic…
House of Cards is a solid B+. Watch it if you love politics or Kevin Spacey.