Hello g33ks, m33ks, and anyone else that has serious issues with self control. I am going to review what is possibly the best television show not on tv, Netflix’s original series, House of Cards. Starring Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, Robin Wright as Claire Underwood, and Kate Mara as Zoe Barnes this series is a remake of the 1990 BBC mini-series of the same name. Created by David Fincher for American audiences this is one of the most well-crafted series of this season. To say its a good show is an understatement but in order for Netflix to become HBO before HBO can become Netflix (as stated by their CEO), this show has to be stellar. It needs to actually steal an award from one of the perennial drama winners like Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire to change the landscape of television in the way they hope that it will. Can any series made for online distribution even hope to do so?
The story of House of Cards is one that follows Democratic House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, in his 11th term as a member of the US House of Representatives at the end of a successful Presidential campaign in which he played a major role. His reward for years of being a good soldier, garbageman and rainmaker? Secretary of State. Until the woman he helped get hired as White House Chief of Staff, Linda Vasquez played by Sakina Jaffrey, blindsides him with the announcement that the job will go to another man. From that moment on Frank becomes determined to enact a grand plan to gather more power for himself while also destroying everyone who had anything to do with slighting him. Manipulating lobbyists, reporters, senators, Congress and The President he subtly puts together a plan that can’t be understood fully until it is played out.
House of Cards is a wake up call to the entirety of Hollywood. As a huge fan of elegant well acted well made drama this is easily one of the best shows of the year. American Horror Story started well and let down, Revolution has a major problem involving the fact that two of its main characters are unlikeable/unwatchable, and it remains to be seen if The Following can live up to its full potential. Series like Zero Hour have yet to premiere and of course Dexter will start again this summer but with the exception of The Walking Dead and Mad Men you will probably be hard pressed to find a better drama this year. I know it’s February, and I know it just premiered, but I watched all 13 episodes in two multi-hour sittings. Each episode was filled with the kind of storytelling that makes people say, ‘each episode is like a mini-movie’ or ‘its a 13 hour film’.
There are many reasons this show works so well. A-list casting mixed with fantastic up-and-comers/character actors. Excellent writing and direction. Fantastic camera work, pacing and editing line the series up perfectly against others from the studios. Nothing feels stripped down or low level because Netflix spent about $4 million per episode and the first two seasons will cost them over $100 million. If it pays off in awards recognition House of Cards could take Netflix from a distribution brand to a full fledged digital network.
We’ve long thought of the future of digital series as being Youtube Partners, like Nerdist Industries or Geek and Sundry. This takes all of that to a whole new level. Google gathered a lot of the best short form content creators under their banner. Amazon seems to be launching new series for Instant Video. Netflix is going after the big boys, in essence becoming a premium cable network. Whatever Amazon Instant, Youtube and Redbox have going on they’re all going to be watching House of Cards and Arrested Development to see if Netflix’s gambles will pay off. There are many: $100 million investment, release of all episodes at once, no partnership with another television network to consider.
I enjoyed this show in a lot of the same ways I enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, a politically savvy occasionally humorous well acted drama. The chemistry between all of the performers, the smart ways it takes shots at both political parties, and the unbridled jadedness everyone involved in the show seems to have for the business of Washington DC politics, make this show extremely magnetic. It should find itself up for several Emmy Awards and I’d bet it wins one or two.
– Mr. Khon