I have eventually gotten around to checking out Netflix’s inaugural show, House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Mara, and Robin Wright.
Most of the hype surrounding this show centered on the fact that it was produced by Netflix, but it really could have come out on even the most traditional television channels. Its pedigree is impeccable; supremely written and directed, with a slimy, lo-fi soundtrack, and confident quarterback of a main character capable of carrying extended stretches of show. Kevin Spacey has been great as House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, a perfect fit for a show about Washington DC’s power players ruthlessly backstabbing one another.
There’s also a stable of interesting sub-plot storylines that really carry the water; an addict congressman, a rival back in the home district, and Freddie, a barbecue restauraneur who seems capable of getting a plate of ribs under Frank’s nose on alarmingly short notice. But for the most part, all these side characters serve as nothing more than detours to help flesh out the Frank Underwood character.
In one episode, a harried Frank calls on Freddie to take over catering on the day of a critical fundraiser. Good ribs take hours to make, yet Freddie is able to churn out enough ribs to cater a large fundraiser with almost zero notice? And usually in exchange for what appears to be a single bill, that is always elicits a reaction by the restauranteur that Frank paid way too much. The spectacle reeks of class inequality and definitely more than hints at racial showboating. Furthermore, whether intended or not, these exchanges underscore the depressing fact that the people who run Washington DC, are not the people who have to actually have to live in Washington DC. As Frank Underwood slowly builds his castle, Freddie slowly lives in a cloud of smoke in southeast Washington.
Frank’s wife, played by Robin Wright, is a machine that is fueled by the blood of 59 year-old service workers and origami-folding indigents. Every scene feels like she’s luring in a new character in order to drain them of their lifeforce.
Underwood’s protege/lover/confident, Zoe Barnes, is played by Kate Mara. Mara is arguably the more useful of the two female leads as her youth, lifestyle and profession put her on a different path from the Underwoods’ high society back-room proceedings. Zoe Barnes is the show’s wild card, growing from an entusiastic naivete to a strong-willed journalist who holds some ideals.
It’s hard to conclude how long of a shelf-life this show has. The first two seasons cost $100 million to make, which Netflix claims it has already recouped in terms of new subscribers. But will House of Cards keep up its subscription boost by the end of the second season? Maybe by then Netflix will have added more quality shows to its bullpen.
Additionally, Kevin Spacey is clearly hoping that a couple seasons on a critically acclaimed show is going to propel him back onto Hollywood’s A-list, at which it stands to reason that he’s going to leave the show. Of course, the other possibility is that he sticks around a while longer, collects a few more paychecks, and accepts his lot as a very good actor who probably is best suited as a supporting actor in good films, and a lead actor in mediocre-to-crummy films.
But at the moment, you can hang your hat on this show. The immovable characters; the main character, two female leads, are all keepers. There are enough shady Washington DC anecdotes that can be adapted to keep House of Cards standing for the forseeable future.