House of Cards, I’m confident to report, is the best thing I’ve seen on television this year.
That’s right: on television. Despite its release on Netflix, and thus possible categorization as some sort of online production, its style and its substance absolutely rank it with the very best “traditional” TV has to offer.
For goodness’ sake, watch it now. Or read the little bit I’m going to say about it, and then watch it. (Spoiler alerts, because I suspect a number of events from the British version will play out in seasons 2 and following of the US version.)
The series is based on a British production. Three four-hour miniseries from the 1990s. I watched them before the US version came out, partially to prepare but also because I love British politics
more than almost as much as even more than I love American ones. Obviously, some
things had to be adapted for the US market, due to our not having a Parliament
(But oh if ONLY…)
I’m not going to waste your time by talking plot; you likely have some idea of what the show’s about already. (Or have even seen it yourself; I’m quite late to the party, I know.) Rather, I’m going to do a bit of a compare/contrast analysis, because now that I’m no longer a student my opportunities for such criticism are sadly lacking.
What I Liked
Claire Underwood. The British version had four hours to cover the events in HoC; the US version had thirteen. Understandable, then, that certain events and roles were either created or elongated to fill the time. The best example is this character. The wife in the British version was seen little and heard even less. But here, Robin Wright
Penn gets a job and a personality and is pretty
much the thinking woman’s dreamgirl.
The down and dirty dealmaking. As much as we all like to pretend that politics is full of idealists, it’s actually full of pragmatists that owe each other. The job of the whip—and thus the focus of HoC—is making deals. We got to see a lot more of that here than in the British version, or perhaps it’s that the deals make more sense to me when they’re American (e.g. getting the CoS’s kid into Stanford) rather than British (pretty much every constituent issue raised on any given Prime Minister’s Questions).
Stamper. In the British version, Tim Stamper was scary. In the US version, Doug Stamper scared the living shit out of me. Exactly as he should.
What I Didn’t Like
The Sentinel. Here, the dark side of having more hours to fill. I didn’t mind SC peach/butt kerfufflegate, because we mustn’t forget that even the House leadership has to deal with silly home state issues. But the entire hour spent at Underwood’s alma mater, drunken revelry and possible homosexuality included, advanced the plot how, exactly?
WARNING, MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Zoey Barnes is still alive. At the end of the British HoC miniseries (again, that’s the first four hours of twelve), Francis Urquhardt pushes Mattie Storin off the roof of the Houses of Parliament. She dies, people. And she’s become quite meddlesome by that point, so we FoUs (Friends of Urquhardt) kind of enjoy it. Now, I realize that Kate Mara is a big name and everything, but Zoey has become just as meddlesome as Mattie was. TheBoy and I spent the first twelve hours listing buildings we thought she would get pushed off of. Disappointing.
(For those of you who really want to know, here’s a bit of a tease: The DVD lists four names: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, and Corey Stoll. By the end of the British version, three of those characters are dead. Dun dun DUN!)
THE SPOILER ALERTS ARE OVER. PLEASE RETURN YOUR SEATS TO THEIR UPRIGHT AND LOCKED POSITIONS.
The sexting. I’m a leetle doubtful that someone of Francis’s position and age would be such a skilled texter. (At least it was a BlackBerry, though.) And don’t give me the Anthony Weiner argument; Francis has a good decade plus on Underwood. I know men of Underwood’s generation. I work with men of Underwood’s generation. I’m related to men of Underwood’s generation. They don’t text. Related: When Francis calls Zoey, he pops up on her caller ID as “Francis Underwood.” REALLY?
Where do we go from here? I have a few ideas, but I don’t want to spoil more than I already have. Because the ending of the British version is a doozy. I will say that I don’t think this ends with the Vice Presidency, anyway.