Netflix Pick! House of Cards – Original Series

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Netflix’s original series House of Cards (based off BBC’s House of Cards 1990) aired Feb. 1st (apologies for the belated review) and certainly makes a multifaceted statement. This series is complex, dark, thick-plotted, and in most cases unpredictable. It requires the viewer’s undivided attention and will redefine your idea of manipulation. Politics can sometimes mean dull, tedious arguing, especially in Congress, but not in House of Cards‘ case. This might be a result of the impressive cast and producers, including Kevin Spacey and David Fincher, but it also might be due to the impossible plot and its unrealistic outcomes as stated in Eli Lehrer’s article, “Good Television, Questionable Research.” Fincher is recognized for such films as Se7en, The Social Network, and the American adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Fincher’s style is certainly present in House of Cards, which a bulk of the praise should be deservedly bestowed.

House of Cards revolves around the majority whip congressman, Francis (Frank) Underwood, played impeccably by Kevin Spacey, and his vengeful path of lies, corruption, manipulation, blackmail, and worse. In the opening scene, Spacey strangles a dying dog to quicken its death, an appropriate undertone for the entire series. Underwood’s marriage functions solely as a foundation of support, thanks to his wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). Both characters are extremely complex and occasionally misleading. The moment you think they have an ounce of decency within them, they tear away your resolve the next second. Claire and Frank are affectionate toward each other (in more ways than one), but the viewer is never convinced they’re in love. Their marriage is more like a mutually beneficial arrangement, or “team,” as Claire says. I imagine the word ambition and power repeating over and over in their vows.

The first episode informs us that Frank has been cheated out of the position of Secretary of State. After this motion, Frank’s plot of revenge begins, revealing the worst (and cleverest) facets of his personality. In the beginning, I was on board, awaiting Frank’s strategy to maneuver around the political system and to receive justice for the what was committed against him. But, I was unexpectedly wrong about one thing: Who’s to say that Frank was any different before he was cheated? The more I watched House of Cards, the more I realized Frank was always this terrible person. I started losing sight of why he deserves justice at all. He doesn’t, really, since no severe crime was ever committed against him besides the hindrance of his own political advancement. This is House of Cards‘ major flaw.

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Even though the series is the epitome of excellent execution from title design to script, the one thing missing is the viewer’s sympathy for Frank. Frank is the ultimate scumbag, a talented debater, as well as privy to the government’s gears and screws. He’s fortunate, persuasive, and is happy to manipulate his peers under any circumstance. Ultimately, this leaves the viewer detached and uninterested in his character. Unlike House of Cards, DexterThe Americans and the anime Deathnote all successfully display “evil” main characters with whom the audience also likes. And believe me, I really tried to like Frank, but simply couldn’t.

Frank’s politico facade is juxtaposed by his frequent asides, which usually offer some sort of information to the audience accompanied by sardonic opinions. This dual perspective is constant, which leaves the viewer insecure about Frank’s sincerity.

Besides Frank’s chilly resolve, the rest of the cast provides a worthy dynamic. An ambitious, slightly arrogant (and slightly annoying), do-anything-for-the-story reporter, Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), breaks boundaries to get ahead. And Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), one of my favorite performances, pulls all the viewer’s sympathy with his victimized, pitiful situation. The other character I want to sympathize with is Claire, Frank’s wife. Although occasionally heartless, she runs a huge charity organization and at one point hands a homeless man some money. She also has a love interest that appears mid-season who sees her as more than just a ruthless politician’s wife. There’s proof that she has a heart, or at least had a heart.

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More importantly, House of Cards transitions us into a modern era of wholly available series via streaming without advertisements or weekly waiting periods. The entire series was uploaded to Netflix at once, allowing viewers to watch at their own pace. I exclusively watch series through Netflix for this very reason and will remain loyal to Netflix if this continues. This will be the future of TV series (hopefully). Another modern aspect of this series is its integration of social media and communication. We frequently see the characters using phones realistically (ex: not answering and listening to the voicemail afterwards to avoid contact), tweets, “sound bytes” with media coverage, and even an auto-tuned YouTube video remix from one of Frank’s mistakes in an interview. You don’t see this kind of realism in TV shows.

Overall, House of Cards  definitely exudes professionalism, but is missing a couple of ingredients. I give House of Cards 4 out of 5 stars!

4 star rating- HOC

References: Matt Zoller Seitz’ (Vulture) review, Ar Melber’s (The Atlantic) review, Maureen Ryan’s critique (Huffington Post),  Kid in the Front Row blog review,  and Alyssa Rosenberg’s review (Think Progress).

What did you think about House of Cards’ ambitious plot/characters? Did you sympathize with Frank?

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