Creator: Originally a BBC drama based on the novel by Michael Dobbs. American production is by Beau Willimon
Focus: Political drama with a focus on power, influence and corruption
Characters to watch:
Frank Underwood– Main protagonist, immoral, ambitious, conniving
Zoe Barnes – Reporter at The Washington Herald, young, ambitious, ballsy, Frank’s tutee
Seasons: 1(13 Eps)
I love TV shows and I’m not really one to glorify all things American, but when it comes to shows, they are hands down the global leaders, dominators, innovators and everything else. Anyone who knows me knows I have a particularly penchant for American shows, and it’s been a while since I felt so moved enough by a TV series to do a review on it (see previous post Scandal, Suits and The Newsroom), but House of Cards is that show. Now let me provide some backdrop:
House of Cards is a 13 part political drama whose first season was released, in somewhat unprecedented fashion, all in one go on February 1st 2013 on Netflix (You know where to find more in-depth info – Wikipedia). I only got the revelation about it late into February, so when I was doing some background research and discovered that, I was amazed. I’ve never heard of that happening before and to be honest, I think there are positives and negatives to that approach.
I think the disadvantage to releasing a complete season immediately is that having to wait for the next episode, is one of the elements that make the experience of watching a show so enjoyable sometimes. Let’s take as an example another American political drama, Scandal. If you are an avid fan like myself, then you know about the underground Tumblr/blog scene in which every episode is broken down, dismantled, analysed, gifd, memed, freeze-framed, collages created, poems written, declarations of love uttered, hashtags created and a whole lot more. It is utterly hilarious and wonderful. What all this does is it piques audience interest for the following episodes, allows discussion around content, and really gets you noticing the little things it’s easy to miss if you watch a show in one go; things that will be integral to the plot later down the line. It’s literally a community. By releasing House of Cards in one go, the creators have failed to understand a key component of audience retention and interaction with shows in this digital age; the great passion for commentary and interaction in real time; as in everyone being on the same episode. When it is released in bulk, everyone is at different points and it’s almost dangerous to take to social media to talk about it in case someone is ahead of you and spoils the plot. It also doesn’t force the audience to let the episode marinate in their minds and to think on it, which enhances the viewing experience. You know that joy when you notice something key? That. When everything is available you are more likely to rush to get to the end just to find out what happened, than dwell on important nuances.
There is definitely an advantage to bulk release though, in terms of creating a momentum behind the plot and not leaving room for the audience to get distracted by other shows, and really feeding the desire to know more. I think it makes people more likely to watch all of it too. Also the fact that everyone across the world gets to watch it at the same time, without that annoying delay there often is between release dates in the country of origin and elsewhere. However, this method is a bit risky, and only works if the content is great.
And the content is great.
House of Cards follows the life of Democratic congressman Frank Underwood, who was blind-sided by the current administration who gave what he thought was his assured promotion to Secretary of State, to another person. The show basically documents his quest for revenge and perhaps something greater and definitely sinister.
Frank is the most wily, cunning, manipulative, and scheming anti-hero I’ve ever watched. I hate his character because he represents everything I dislike, but at the same time I love his character as he is utterly compelling to watch. What makes House of Cards and Frank so different to other shows as well, is that he breaks the fourth wall. People who have studied drama will understand what I mean, but for those who haven’t, it basically means that sometimes he speaks to the camera; us the audience. It’s almost like we are culpable and co-conspirators in every diabolical act he commits. The side-eyes Kevin Spacey (who plays Frank Underwood terrifically) gives to the camera (i.e. us) at times are priceless. Sometimes they help you to see exactly what is going to happen next and just how an unsuspecting fool is about to get masterfully played by Frank.
Frank’s mission is quite clear; to get as many people in positions of influence and power grateful for his apparent help, and indebted to him. Why? It’s the best combination. People like this when asked to jump only ask ‘How high?’, and anyone who tries to rebel against this order is swiftly reminded of why they are indebted to him. He has a face for every occasion, you cannot outwit him, there are no boundaries to his plots (from what I can see so far) and he always wins. He is relentless and aggressive in his political conquests and he collects as many cards to play as he can along the way – for present use or what he perceives he may need in the future – hence the title House of Cards. He revels in his villainy with those who know the true him, but he is a sometimes meek, deferential and compliant congressman to those are about to get set up, or from whom he still needs a level of co-operation from.
I am not yet quite sure what Frank’s end-goal is but I have one major theory, and if I’m right, the President should watch out.
The relationship in the show that intrigues me the most is that between Frank and his wife Claire. I’ve rarely seen a marriage portrayed like this; one in which both are willing to do whatever it takes to progress Frank’s agenda, using whoever they please, and yet still seeming to appear deeply in love with each other. The closest parallel perhaps is the Graysons in Revenge, yet the dynamic between Frank and his wife is quite unique. It’s unique because his wife is not overbearing in any way shape or form; she’s not the typical politicians’ wife – ridiculously ambitious, or a preening and vain trophy. She is very cool, calm, collected and at times quite calculating; someone who is willing to allow Frank to do things that no other wife would tolerate, without complaint. She not only understands that it’s for the main goal which is Frank’s accumulation of power influence, and helpless politicians at his beck and call…she is fully on board. The only time she ever raises the mildest of concerns, is when his politicizing affects her charity, which she is apparently very passionate about.
I won’t say much more, as I don’t want to spoil anything and I haven’t finished watching it either, but this show is a must watch if:
- You like political conspiracies, power struggles, skulduggery and scandals
- You like a villain with a twist, who appreciates and revels in your presence as imagined co-conspirators
- You like the exploration of the human condition, boundaries, morals, ethics, and unbridled ambition
- You like Kevin Spacey as an actor (I honestly believe he is one of the best actors of his generation), because he brings it every single episode
- You like a compelling and addictive watch
Here is a trailer of what to expect:
Find the show on Twitter: @HouseOfCards