Binge Watchin' TV Review: House of Cards
Welcome to Binge Watchin,’ where we take a look at some of the best TV shows available on streaming or disc that have a great catalogue of seasons to jump into and get sucked into the beautiful bliss of binge watching! From crime, action, comedy, drama, animation, etc., we’ll be evaluating an assortment of shows that will hopefully serve as a gateway to your next binge experience.
Series: House of Cards
Number of Seasons: 2 (Season 3 starts Feb 27th)
Where to watch: Netflix, Blu-Ray
What’s the show about? : After being passed over for the position of Secretary of State, ruthless Democratic Congressional House majority whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) maneuvers behind-the-scenes in an attempt to both gain political power and get revenge on those that crossed him. In the process, he and his equally ruthless wife Claire (Robin Wright) begin an ascent to power that leaves behind a trail of corpses and ruined careers, while Underwood keeps his eye on the shiniest prize of them all, the U.S Presidency.
Why should I watch?: HOUSE OF CARDS was a game-changer in many ways for television dramas, but not necessarily due to its content. Rather, it was revolutionary in that it was the first show to premiere on Netflix, which has since become an original content behemoth, maybe even on par with HBO. Within months it was followed by shows like ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK and the fourth season of ARRESTED: DEVELOPMENT, and this year the streaming giant is primed to get even bigger with no less than four Marvel shows in the pipeline, and several new original dramas set to hit the service.
But business aside, HOUSE OF CARDS (which is loosely based on a BBC drama from the early nineties) is a strikingly good show. Kevin Spacey signing on to multiple seasons arguably started the film-to-cable exodus we’ve been benefiting from, taking away of lot of the stigma that used to come from doing a TV show. The fact is HOUSE OF CARDS has given him his best showcase since AMERICAN BEAUTY, with Frank Underwood tailor-made for his talents. He chews the scenery with his exaggerated South Carolina accent (I love the way he says “whip”) while frequently breaking the fourth wall to address the viewer or shoot them a sly look that usually comments on either the gullibility of whomever he’s talking to or that he’s just pulled-off a sly move. He’s a fascinating character and the kind that could probably only exist on premium TV, where anti-heroes or downright villains can anchor their own show. He’s sexually ambiguous (capable of seducing both men and women – depending on who can serve him best), and often morally reprehensible, but damn if he’s not fun to watch.
His Lady Macbeth-styled wife Claire, played by the eternally youthful Robin Wright, is no slouch either. In many ways, she’s the more ambiguous character in that she’s capable of showing shreds of humanity, but also very able of being even worse than Frank when necessary. Her work in season two concerning a rape subplot is especially good, with her capable of earning the audience’s sympathy, then disgust, and then back again whenever she (or rather the writers) sees fit. Wright and Spacey have both won well-deserved Golden Globes for their performances, and have also been nominated for Emmys. The supporting cast is similarly good, with both characters that carry-on season-to-season (such as Mahershala Ali’s lobbyist Remy Danton – maybe the only one who’s able to consistently see through Frank) or those that come and go, including Kate Mara’s crusading (if egotistical) journalist Zoe Barnes, and Corey Stoll’s troubled Peter Russo (this wound up being a star-making performance for Stoll, who’s since landed his own series, THE STRAIN).
It helps that HOUSE OF CARDS is also one of the most technically polished shows out there, with David Fincher having set the style by directing the first two episodes, with his style maintained by an A-list roaster of mostly-feature directors including Carl Franklin (ONE FALSE MOVE), James Foley (AT CLOSE RANGE), Joel Schumacher (closer to his work on FALLING DOWN than BATMAN FOREVER), Allen Coulter (THE SOPRANOS, BOARDWALK EMPIRE), the iconic Jodie Foster and even Robin Wright herself. Showrunner Beau Willimon has done an admirable job keeping the show technically sophisticated, while maintaining a tone that’s both deliciously over-the-top, and politically relevant.
Best Season: While I haven’t gotten a look at season three yet, to me one and two are pretty much on-par. Season one had the amazing Peter Russo storyline, with Stoll’s peerless performance, but two was just as compelling with the Underwoods’ ascent brilliantly contrasted by the fall of Frank’s right-hand man, the tortured Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) and an interesting online subplot with shades of Edward Snowdon, centering around a moral hacktivist played by Jimmi Simpson. Former MAJOR DAD Gerald McRaney was also aces as billionaire kingmaker Raymond Tusk – with him hopefully returning for season three. In the end, I give season two a slight edge, but both are pretty consistent quality-wise.
Final Thoughts: HOUSE OF CARDS is another example of how nowadays premium TV (if Netflix counts as such) is better than most movies. Season three starts streaming tomorrow and the simultaneous release of all episodes at once make this ideal for binge watching. I can’t recommend this highly enough, and speaking of season three – make sure to check out Alex Maidy’s episode reviews, which kick off Friday, February 27th.