So on my 22nd birthday, I got a package from my girlfriend. I was at the age when I wasn't expecting too much, just happy to get something. Hopes for something cool and mysterious were not high but there were there. I opened it up. It was the second season of House of Cards on DVD.
A cheeky grin and a hushed string of expletives followed.
See, around episode eleven of House of Cards, I decided a casual distaste for the show would not suffice and I would instead need to take upon myself a rather fiery, impassioned crusade that involved spewing overly-analytical bile upon any person who crossed my path with even a vaguely informed positive impression of the show, a mindset that would win me no friends but a whole series of very, very casual acquaintances that probably wouldn’t mind not seeing me again. I made this clear to Ms. Ryan O’Leary and perhaps labored upon the point a tad too often because a week later all talk of House of Cards was banned. A few months later, smartass little bastard, she had a joke at my expense with my birthday gift.
House of Cards came into play with perfect timing. People are dissatisfied with the wallowing cesspool of greed and incompetence that defines the government, with 75% of people expressing dissatisfaction with the direction of America and Congressional approval ratings at an all time low. And yet at the same time there is also a distinct absence of mainstream entertainment willing to address this unease. It was Kevin Spacey’s first big project since we, as a people, realized we missed Kevin Spacey. Also, acclaimed director David Fincher’s first foray into television after a wildly successful career in film. All this delivered to viewers via Netflix’s revolutionary bulk delivery of episodes, an innovation not unlike when HBO first debuted The Sopranos fifteen years ago without commercials but with boobs and fucks and blood. Yes, House of Cards had the narrative of innovation and singularity behind it to be considered for entry into the Pantheon alongside the other greats such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men. And Deadwood if you pretend it has an ending, which I do, and Twin Peaks if you ignore the ending, which I don’t. Honorable mentions to Hill Street Blues for kicking it all off though. That show gets something like a plaque on the wall or they name the whole building after it.
House of Cards, in case the reader is unaware, is about a Congressman with a nice southern drawl but probably a penis a couple sizes too small for his liking cause he sure works hard to compensate for something we’re never really made aware of by ruining a variety of lives until he reigns supreme and powerful at the top of it all, named Frank Underwood. Slighted and angered when he’s denied the promised position as Secretary of State by the administration, he crafts an elaborate plot to attain revenge and power. Shenanigans follow.
There was a lot to like as I started watching. Sometimes, to marvel at. Spacey as Frank Underwood kills it, giving him a somehow simultaneous edge of camp and malevolence. Robin Wright, as his wife Claire, is just as good, though Claire is not given nearly enough interesting material for Robin to shine as much as she could. Of the bunch though, the stand out is Corey Stoll as an alcoholic congressman looking to clean up his act for the big time named Peter Russo. For the first few episodes he was the only actor of the ensemble to ever make feel any emotions, but that’s more due to the character than anything. The plot machinations can be hit or miss, but there are certain moments and episodes that offer a real cathartic look at just how dreadfully fucked government can be. On a technical level, the cinematography is a pitch perfect collection of dull grays and blues that bring to mind for whatever reason a cold unexpectedly caught on a cloudy summer day or a dreary day spent in a hospital room when it’s raining outside but for some reason you leave the window open. It’s a perfect match for the cynicism that underpins every facet of the show.
All this added up to a good show. In its strongest moments, a really good show. But as I kept watching, I still felt a distance. When a TV show hits me, it burrows into my gut and rests there. I’ll spend countless hours, though only really countless because I don’t care to know how much time I’m wasting on this shit, reading, understanding, analyzing, rewatching the parts I can’t quite let go of. And it wasn’t happening with House of Cards. But it was with everyone else. Next week, I'll get into what wasn't clicking with me.