I've been sucked into the new original Netflix series, "House of Cards" and I don't want it to end. The premise was so outside my typical TV drama series interests, I almost didn't watch, set as it is in the political mire of Washington, D.C. I tend towards dark comedies like "Bored to Death," "Six Feet Under" and "30Rock," plain old dark dramas, like "Dexter," and legal dramas like "Damages" (I'm a passionate lover of all the "Law & Order" shows). The closest I've come to this new series is "The Good Wife," which mixes legal and political drama — but the politics part of that show always left me cold.
But "Downton Abbey" was over, and so I gave "House of Cards" a shot; I've always loved Kevin Spacey's and Robin Wright's work (and watching them work), but to be honest, I wasn't expecting much from Netflix (though I've been a loyal subscriber since 2003), which isn't a cable company, but simply a no-advertising, paid-subscription service. How could they compete with HBO, Showtime and Cinemax? They have absolutely proved that they can.
"House of Cards" has high production values (the set and costume designers are tops, the editing is beyond excellent) and is executive produced by David Fincher, a veteran filmmaker ("The Social Network," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "Zodiac," "Seven") who won an academy award for his work on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." So it looks and runs beautifully, even without the novel-then-BBC-drama pedigree of the story. (Yes, the story is close — but not the same — as the BBC's show of the same name.) But of course, it's the relevance of the story to current events — how the laws really get passed, how good work happens, why pork gets snuck into so many bills — that makes this show compelling in these days of budget standoffs and hands-on-hips posturing for a cause.
Spacey plays Francis Underwood, a polished-but-sleazy (and very angry) democrat from South Carolina who is also the House Majority Whip and a powerful player in the House. Having been denied his ambition to be named Secretary of State, he is out for revenge. With a slick Southern drawl (spot-on to my ear, even though Spacey's from California) and an affable face that belies his hard-as-a-diamond demeanor, he manipulates, well, pretty much everyone around him (the viewer gets a direct view into his usually despicable plans as Underwood breaks the fourth wall on a regular basis, speaking directly to the viewer). The only one who seems to be able to keep up with is machinations (and even exceeds them on occasion), is his wife on the show, Robin Wright, who runs a nonprofit, the Clean Water Initiative.
Wright works her powerful-woman-in-D.C. (yes, it's different from the same character in NYC or LA) with a performance that's all nuance, no nonsense. Unlike her husband, who can sometimes go over the top to get what he wants, all of her work is underground, subsumed beneath (but never seeming less important than) Underwood's. In fact, taking a broad view — that she is bringing wells and clean water to people who are dying from lack of it — her work is actually more impactful than her husband's. Seeing how the head of a nonprofit has to use sweet-talking, connections and sometimes dirty tricks and intimidation to get what she wants (namely 200,000 water purifiers into the hands of people who need them), made me realize that it's a lot closer to politics than I ever thought.
There are plenty more characters, and lots more to love about this new show, but really, you need to see it to get all the intricacies. So queue it up, and pay attention; this is not a show that you can really enjoy if you are chatting online or cooking at the same time. Trust me, it's worth the focus.