**Though this might technically not be a movie, it sure is one hell of a production, and had I more time, I would have watched all 13 hours of it straight through – so no complaints, I’m counting it.
In an age where lies, sex, and money sell television, political dramas are a dime a dozen. You can’t turn on the tube without running into some scandalous TV show about a lawyer who cheats on his wife with her sister, or the jealous employee that murders his boss because of the abuse he suffered at his hands. I’m not saying House of Cards doesn’t exploit these themes: actually, it’s quite the opposite – it relies on them. You won’t watch a show about a guy that punches in a 9 to 5 and comes home to dinner, watches the game, and goes to bed, and this Netflix exclusive series realizes that in its first year of existence.
The difference is that under “genre,” House of Cards is listed as three things: a drama, a political thriller, and a tragedy. That last description is what makes this show one of the more enthralling options available for immediate viewing; this series introduces you to a long list of characters that demand sympathy at one moment, but disdain the next. Each is flawed, but each can have his or her moment in the sun and can gather up support from the audience as the episodes progress. Like a chess piece, every one of the characters is complete with a unique set of benefits and drawbacks, and when played off of each other, they create marvelously disastrous, unique situations.
If each character is represented by a piece on a chess board, then House Majority Whip Francis “Frank” J. Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is undoubtedly its king. After being denied the promised position of Secretary of State by his party after ensuring their candidate’s election, Frank begins a vendetta to systematically eliminate those who wronged him. He makes calculated, precision moves as he works his way through each square, playing both sides of board to his advantage.
The series still explores the themes of sex, power, and influence, but it simplifies the drama and over excess that similar HBO shows thrive on, and that’s why it is so universally accessible. It defies conventions that many of its contemporaries still adhere to, especially the breaking of the fourth wall by Frank.
That’s always a gamble when the writer has the main character speak to the audience directly, but Frank’s soliloquies flow into and further the narrative so naturally that instead of bringing to the viewer’s attention that he or she is watching a production, they actually help to draw them deeper into the twisted political landscape inhabited by each character.
Journalism and its relationship with politics is also a key component in House of Cards, and Zoe (Kate Mara) is an aspiring, cutthroat reporter that will stop at nothing to be the next big beat writer on Capital Hill. She begins an affair with Frank, and the two create a mutually beneficial relationship that helps define some of the main storylines that House of Cards follows. Just the presence of journalism as a primary narrative is exciting, not only because it is underutilized in the entertainment industry today, but because it is so believable as a tool by which politicians use and get used.
Frank’s wife, Claire (Robin Wright) is also a key figure in the first season of House of Cards, and is one of the more complex characters to be explored. Her choices, her passion, her love, her duty; all of these are studied from several angles over the course of the first 13 episodes. Wright does a bang-up job as the steely Congressman’s wife, and is one of the more intriguing and fascinating pieces on the board, so to speak. As there is such a strong ensemble cast, I could delve into each one at length, but it’s probably best that you just see for yourself – I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you, would I?
With Kevin Spacey and David Fincher on as just two of the many executive producers, it’s no wonder that House of Cards is a hit with just about everyone who takes the time to check it out – It was definitely worth the two days I devoted to it. And though we can’t yet be sure whether Francis J. Underwood is the white or the black king, we can be sure that House of Cards’ second season is built on a strong foundation.