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The new Netflix series ‘House of Cards’ helps usher in a new viewing experience, even if the series itself falls short as a cutting edge political thiller/satire. It’s bolstered by strong performances from the cast which offset some of the silliness that plagued the middle of the series.
There won’t be too many spoilers, so read on if you dare.
The buzz raged across the Internet back in March of 2011 soon as Netflix announced it was producing its second original programming venture. (The first was "Lillyhammer," starring Steve Van Zandt.)
The streaming giant outbid all competitors for the rights to produce a remake of the British TV political series House of Cards. Attached to the project for a whopping 100 million dollars, twenty-six episodes, two seasons, actor Kevin Spacey and director David Fincher.
I’ve been writing reviews of TV and movies on C&L for almost eight years and what I’ve loved the most about Netflix and Amazon Video on Demand is watching episodes entirely on my own schedule, as many episodes as I want. I coined the term ‘power cycling’ years ago because I soon discovered that watching four straight episodes of MI-5, Alias, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Gallactica, The Wire or Buffy (fill in your own) were much more entertaining and compelling when the viewer isn't forced to play by the network’s rules. A lot of character development and plot lines get lost in the shuffle as we wait week after week (pauses for holidays scheduling and summer breaks) for another key reveal or important moment of drama to move the story forward.
But when you cycle through them at an accelerated pace, so many more details are fresh in mind---the story and performances are far more rich and compelling than they ever could be under the older eight month scheduled format.
So here comes the wonderful Kevin Spacey playing a role that he can sink his teeth into: ruthless Democratic Congressman Francis Underwood, the House majority whip. He plays politics as effortlessly as Itzhak Perlman plays a Stradivarius and is as mean as Tom Delay. Lest we forget, the Bugman helped create the K Street lobbyist project in Washington DC. (Oh, by the way, there is a corporate lobbyist flying around the HOC set the entire series and who happens to be Underwood’s old press secretary.)
Robin Wright is Claire Underwood, his confidante, soul mate and beautiful wife. She runs an environmental nonprofit group called CWI, dedicated to bringing clean water to the Third World. Her company's own fortunes are also tied quite completely into her husband's since he's been promised the job of Secretary of State. When that doesn't happen for Francis it's not only his life ambitions that are effected, but his wife's. Their relationship defines much of what happens over the some roughly thirteen hours of viewing and Wright chews up the scenery as ferociously as Spacey. There are many other actors that play a critical role in the unfolding story lines including Kate Mara, Michael Kelly, Sakina Jaffrey, Corey Stoll, Kristen Connolly, Mahershala Ali
One of the gimmicks to the series has Kevin Spacey breaking the fourth wall and he talks directly to the audience, spelling out his actions and innermost thoughts at critical moments. It was a feature of the original BBC series as well and I found it annoying most of the time because it breaks the rhythm of the scene and turns it too much into a caricature. It also made the series seem much less rooted in the reality of politics. It worked much better for Ian Richardson's character in the BBC production. For the U.S. version, a voiceover would have been a much more effective device.
The plot seemed a little too implausible when an embittered politician takes his revenge out on those that wronged him in the backstabbing town, but as it headed to the final four episodes, it picked up momentum, but it veered off into a All The President's Men narrative that didn't fit most of the series. House Of Cards did hold my attention most of the time, but left me wanting so much more from the very talented cast and crew.
After seeing the entire season, I will probably watch the second season in one weekend this time. How about you?
For online purposes it’s pretty much impossible to blog each episode like Vicky Frost and Dan Martin does for The Guardian because everyone will be at a different point of the season and as David Winer writes:
One thing that's missing from House of Cards that you get from other serial dramas like Breaking Bad or Homeland is the ability to discuss it with people online. Everyone is either a few episodes ahead -- or behind. I don't want spoilers, and I don't want to be a spoiler. We need to invent new communication systems, where only people who have made it through Episode X can discuss with others who have made it exactly that far.
Amazon is jumping into the original programming frenzy too:
First, Amazon clearly plans to actively compete with Netflix as a source for high-quality original programming. Netflix is of course pushing hard into original content creation with a fourth season of Arrested Development expected to arrive this spring, along with new shows such as David Fincher’s House of Cards, Eli Roth’s Hemlock Grove, Lilyhammer, Orange Is The New Black and Derek.
Second, in a model that is similar to Dan Harmon’s online comedy network Channel 101, viewers will ultimately decide which pilots go to series. Many television viewers have hoped to see networks adopt a similar method. It will be interesting to see how the fan-selected shows ultimately perform. Amazon likely hopes to lure in a few more Amazon Prime members along the way.
It will take a minute or so before the online community figures out how to discuss each episode if Netflix's all-in scenario takes hold. I mean, it's not as if bloggers haven't had a few hurdles to overcome before. Am I right?