Review: House of Cards

House of Cards (2013

Netflix is playing a very interesting game lately, not only continuing to swipe content typically reserved for cable television, but also dipping their toes into exclusive first-run content the likes of which only the HBOs and Showtimes of the world get access to.  House of Cards is the second of these series (and actually a re-make of an early-90s BBC production), following Lilyhammer (which I haven’t seen), and will be joined soon by their third offering, another season of Arrested Development (and believe you me, Brooke and I are excited about that one…).

House of Cards, specifically, is the product of Netflix’s enormous data mining initiative.  Everything you watch, they pay attention to.  They know how often you pause during a show, how often you repeat a given segment (and which segment), and how everything you like relates to one another.  Case in point, courtesy of Salon: “Netflix subscriber viewing preferences clinched [the] decision to license a remake of the popular and critically well regarded 1990 BBC miniseries. Netflix’s data indicated that the same subscribers who loved the original BBC production also gobbled down movies starring Kevin Spacey or directed by David Fincher. Therefore, concluded Netflix executives, a remake of the BBC drama with Spacey and Fincher attached was a no-brainer, to the point that the company committed $100 million for two 13-episode seasons.”

Greenlighting the series for two seasons from the beginning allows production to plot an outline for those seasons from the very beginning (with, of course, the ability to opt for more depending on performance).  Creatively speaking, this is very attractive, as most networks won’t guarantee you more than a season (or a few episodes) from the outset.  This kind of freedom was helpful in attracting David Fincher to the series, who served as Executive Producer and directed the first two episodes.  If you don’t know who Fincher is, you should recognize his work as director of The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Se7en and Fight Club (not exactly a “nobody”).

House of Cards focuses on Congressman and Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who is passed up for the Secretary of State nomination by the newly-elected President in the first episode.  The series focuses on Underwood’s sophisticated plotting as he and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), seek revenge against those that wronged him.  In many ways, he’s playing a long chess match, where he’s always looking many moves ahead until “checkmate” is within his grasp.  The relationship between Frank and Claire is a complicated one, where each has their own interests that serve each other’s purpose at any given time, further complicated by favors and lobbying that pull them apart (and back together).  All the while, you sense they care deeply about each other, perhaps not necessarily as “husband and wife,” but more as teammates determined to achieve the same goal(s).

The acting is unbelievable, especially between Spacey and Wright.  By the end of that season, you know that Frank and Clair, both individually and together, are capable of doing just about anything to get what they want.  You’ll recognize a host of actors in the series, and they’re all superb.  I had no idea who Corey Stoll was before this show, but geez, he convinced me he’s a drug-addicted congressman, or at least knows one in real life.  Kate Mara is an actress I wasn’t particularly familiar with, but certainly did a great job in her own right.  Spacey and Wright, however, are the two that steal the show.  They both deserve Emmy nominations, though apparently, Netflix doesn’t count as “broadcast television” and may be ineligible.

The hype leading up to the release of the series was coincident with various articles discussing how to even talk about it, as there are no general “rules” for spoiling “last night’s episode” at the water cooler for those that haven’t seen it.  Conceivably, anyone that had 13 hrs to blow on the first night of release could have seen all of it before going in to work.  By most accounts, House of Cards is performing well, however. Though Netflix won’t release specific numbers, it’s apparently the most-watched “thing” on Netflix in 40 countries.

I’ll definitely be back for season 2.  And so should you.

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