I was one of the maniacs who crushed out the entire first season this weekend. The result of which produced some damn fine television, sure, but also a handful of exciting discussions about my general apathy for television. But more on that later.
|Kevin Spacey as Rep. Frank Underwood|
Frank goes home, shares a cigarette with his equally patient and resolute wife, Claire (Robin Wright), and the two plan to bring it all down. Initially, the idea is to ruin the career of the man who assumed Frank’s would-be Secretary of State title. But (and I’m not giving anything away here), once Frank does just that, he Keeps. On. Going. He does favors, gives promotions, destroys lives, all for the sake of… what?
You discover the “what” eventually, but for much of the first season, we’re pleasantly forced to sit in awe of a ruthless, cunning politician as he takes people out for no apparent reason. To help, he blackmails an impressionable rookie Congressman (Corey Stoll), beds a feisty reporter (Kate Mara) in exchange for shared top-secret information, makes the President’s Chief of Staff his enemy, then his friend (then his enemy… then his friend). And plows over several others in the process.
I’ve honestly revealed nothing more here than what you’ll find in the first two episodes, and that’s for damn good reason. Simply put, House of Cards is a masterpiece of the television medium. It stuns, shocks, surprises and, most importantly, treats its audience with respect. Spacey helps immensely with this, and he does it by taking a few huge risks. The first is his decision to go all in. He gives Underwood a steady, barely-there compassion that pops up rarely, but always at the best possible time. No matter what Underwood is doing (and he does quite a lot), Spacey completely owns it. (Another major risk is Underwood’s constant breaking of the fourth wall. Sometimes he looks into the camera and explains to us, the audience, exactly what’s going on. Other times, he just flashes a gentle smirk. Neither is annoying or lazy. Quite the opposite.)
|Robin Wright as Claire Underwood|
Robin Wright. Let’s talk about Robin Wright. Arguably best known as Forest Gump’s Jenny or as Mrs. Sean Penn, Wright’s flawless work in House of Cards is cause enough for her to finally stand on her own. Wright is an actress I’ve been taken with for quite some time, but nothing prepared me for Claire. Everything I described about Frank – the affair, the extortion, the callousness – Claire knows about it all. Why? Because Frank tells her. His vision includes her, always. No matter who or what gets in the way. Claire not only accepts this, she encourages it. I could sit here and dictate countless other notes of praise for Wright’s work here, but this is it. This is the role. This is the character that people remember you by.
Spacey and Wright are the show’s anchors, but everyone else involved delivers at the top of their games. The supporting cast is universally great (I didn’t even mention Michael Kelly’s Doug Stamper, who, as Underwood’s chief of staff, plays the hidden, cunning politician role to perfection), and the series’ writers and directors all immerse themselves collectively into the show’s overall dark tone. The show, from scene one, episode one, just, simply, works.
A handful of words on my distaste for TV. Now, I am no dedicated viewer of television. Frankly, most of the television I’ve seen in the past five years (or attempted to see) has been, well, crap. Of the shows I’ve been told I’d enjoy (Homeland, The Good Wife, Sherlock, Dexter, and on and on), I feel like too much time has passed to start anew. I keep telling myself I’ll get around to the DVDs someday and marathon them out. But I won’t. (Probably.) My affinity for at-home viewing is mostly held in older, foreign films. And that’s the way it goes.
|David Fincher, directing episode two of House of Cards|
But that’s just one part of my problem. The other is the waiting. I simply cannot stand waiting a week to watch something I love. I currently watch three shows live: Mad Men, Treme, and Girls. And I’m pissed everytime one of their episodes concludes. If I had to wait thirteen weeks to finish the first season of House of Cards, I’m sure I would’ve lost interest, just as I did with Justified, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, and countless others. Those are three excellent television programs, but I can’t take the waiting. My mind moves onto something else, and I forget that this starts Sunday at 10, or that airs Tuesday at 11.
The counter(s) to my argument is a simple one: get a DVR. Well, I had a DVR for two years and I felt like a worthless piece of shit. I watched stuff I normally wouldn’t care less about (on top of plenty of things I thought I cared deeply about). A love for Intervention turned into an addiction to Hoarders, The First 48, Top Chef, The Celebrity Apprentice – Christ, you name it. All shows perfect for passing the time (a lot… of time), but nothing more. To me, anyway. People watch and love those shows, but the amount of hours I was spending on them was detrimental to my movie-freaked mind.
The other counter to my argument defines House of Cards’ business model: wait for DVD (or online streaming) and watch the shows you want, when you want. House of Cards isn’t the first time I attempted to crush out a season of television in a flash, but it’s certainly the most fun I’ve had doing it since The Wire. The show has an unsettling, confident, and overall captivating tone that makes it insatiable. Not watching them all as quickly as humanly possibly felt like a waste. And the fact that I streamed episodes of House of Cards on my TV, my desktop, my laptop, and my phone only further cements the notion of TV my way, on my time. So, basically, for 13 hours this weekend, House of Cards was able to break down the barriers I had set for television. I didn’t get bored, I didn’t get frustrated – I simply clicked “Next Episode” the moment the option was available.
|Kate Mara as journalist Zoe Barnes|
We’ll likely not know how successful House of Cards is. Hastings has promised to keep viewing numbers a secret, so only a rise in Netflix’s stock will be evident of House of Cards’ greatness. The company has a few more original shows coming out soon that will practice this exact model, and I truly think that, if they catch on, other networks will play ball as well. Will AMC throw every episode of the final season of Mad Men online at once, for a set fee? Not a chance. But maybe the next AMC show will.
But, for now, we have House of Cards to set the tone. My advice: watch the show, and watch it fast. I have a very difficult time believing you’d regret it. Let me throw it to you another, concluding way: Frank Underwood likes to tell those around him that he’s not a betting man. He relies on fact and certainty. The current cost of a Netflix streaming plan is $7.99 a month. Does House of Cards merit that cost single handedly? Yes, certainly. Season One: A+