The Netflix Files: House of Cards (or Crack TV)

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In an article from last month’s GQ, Netflix President Reed Hastings made this comment: “There’s not a lot of really great, deep, serialized television, and we can see from the data that that’s what people want.” What a pleasant way to view the TV business!  But alas, what Hastings meant to say was, “people want a viewing experience akin to freebasing, and we’re starting them off with House of Cards.” We all know from acute observational comedians that “like crack” is a horribly overused expression, but I’m convinced that Netflix execs skipped the similes and simply exploded an addictive visual substance onto everybody’s favorite streaming service exactly three weeks ago. If you haven’t had a taste, read more on five reasons why House of Cards, while not necessarily perfect, makes for habit-forming viewing.

1. Spacey: From Kaiser Soze to John Doe, this guy absolutely kills it in every role he had (in 1995). No, but seriously: Kevin Spacey, as Congressman Frank Underwood, makes this show what it is. The nuanced South Carolinian accent. The menacing facial expressions. The way he plays first person shooters after a hard day on the Hill. In fact, he’s so good that he makes the potentially insufferable fourth wall-breaching asides tolerable. Frank Underwood is a BMF with a genuine bad streak and Spacey handles him perfectly by nurturing the viewer’s feelings of hatelove toward his character with each successive episode.

2. Plotting: [Note: I will not spoil anything—but the plot of this show, while contrived or too straightforward at times, is incredibly engaging and well-paced. Such pacing generates a childish sense of giddiness as the season moves toward its climax. Seriously, the last time I felt this way was when I caught my first fish one Wednesday in September ’10. For those of you who don’t know what that means: as the plot ramps up this show starts feeling like a drug.]

3. Production values: 100 million dollars. As Brown students, we should be disgusted that this much money went into the production of a thirteen-episode television show instead of into the mouths of the needy or developing some “groundbreaking” green technology. On the other hand, House of Cards and its D.C. setting look absolutely fantastic. At times it seems like boasting, but overall this series’ visual aesthetic is nearly as good as that of pilot director David Fincher’s The Social Network. 

4. Supporting cast: Spacey is getting all the attention in the press, but don’t discount any of the show’s supporting players. The best shows in the history of serialized dramatic television (The WireThe SopranosThe West Wing) have always formed themselves around the foundation of a strong ensemble cast. Corey Stoll—who you may remember stealing scenes as Ernest Hemingway in Midnight in Paris—rises far above the material as the sleek-but-struggling Congressman Peter Russo. Kate Mara—this girl’s sister—somehow makes nail-biting sexy as a Zoey Barnes, a reporter in the process of losing her innocence. Also in the mix: Constance Zimmer (Entourage’s “fucking Dana Gordon”) as Mara’s superior at the paper and Robin Wright (yep…Buttercup from The Princess Bride) as Underwood’s ice-cold wife. Altogether, these performances make nearly every minute of the show watchable. Even when the script failed them (and it does at times), these actors kept my eyes glued to the screen.

5. Sex and scandal: One can find these things at Whiskey or in Keeney Hallways, but it’s much better when the sex and scandal come from actors instead of overemotional, undersexed and blacked-out freshmen. At one point, Zimmer’s character describes the District’s sexual landscape as “incestuous.” As far as we know there is no sibling love, but the series delivers enough intercourse and cinematically erotic moments to stand up to the great HBO shows that preceded it. The erotica gets a bit dull by the end, in my opinion, but it is crucial in establishing the show’s moral landscape and animating some exciting plot lines. It’s not the most addictive aspect, in my opinion, but I think it is a definite draw for most.

I’ll remind you one more time—this show has a way of getting in the way of sleep and other necessary activities, so plan your start accordingly.

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