Netflix has long been a company at odds with itself. Their greatest folly being that they have great ideas and are often so far ahead of the curve that customer’s can’t hope to follow. Physical media is on its death bed, and Netflix gave physical storage its final, fatal dose of digitized poison several years ago with instant streaming. The execution was half-botched though, by forcing their customers to lose physical/mailed content unless they doubled their subscription, and the once top name in movies fell hard. But the play was simply one of seeing the writing on the wall, and they were on the right track. Physical media will inevitably die, and soon. It won’t die alone though, the age of the cable company/forced packages of television subscription are on the way out too. Sure, the big networks will claw, scrape, and cling onto the old world with perspectives and business sense as old as their executives – but it will fail. The modern consumer buys the red M&M’s, and are not interested in buying the whole bag for the color they want.
Netflix has taken the hits and criticism for being a forerunner in this digital age, but seems poised to reap the rewards of their forward thinking as the first of their own (television?) shows hit the internet – House of Cards and a new season of Arrested Development. House of Cards was released all at once in a TV drama traditional 13 episode format on February 1st of this year. I spooled up the pilot just a couple days ago at the suggestion of my fiancé who was a big fan of the original. Yes, House of Cards is an adaptation of a BBC show of the same name from 1990 based on novels by Michael Dobbs and adapted by Andrew Davies. Dobbs and Davies joined forces with the brilliant David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club, Se7en, Benjamin Button) to create an updated version based on the U.S. political system. Fincher had already proven his ability to adapt an original with last year’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo leading much to be expected from House of Cards.
Now that we have a recipe for success – add necessary ingredients. A stellar cast sprinkles the flavorful screenwriting with veterans Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, as well as the talented up-and-comer Kate Mara (the sister of Dragon star, Rooney Mara) to bring the creative pot to a boil of potential. And what a meal. I did not just watch House of Cards, I completely devoured it. House of Cards is simply put, the single best political drama to have ever hit any size of screen. It is thrilling without relying on cheap tricks, brilliant without holding the audience’s hand, and keeps at a superb pace with minimal slumps. Kevin Spacey soars in perhaps his best performance to date as the craftiest boss this side of The Godfather. Robin Wright sears any character with a glance, completing a political power couple with obvious references to current in and out of office personalities. Alongside these two main characters resides an excellent ensemble cast of characters, with real-life references all over the place. One of these such references is clearly seen with the show’s V.P. being quite more than a veiled reference to Joe Biden and his rather tumultuous relationship with Obama.
The opening of the pilot punches the viewer hard with the Spacey’s lead character, Congressman Frank Underwood, having been passed over for Secretary of State within the first few tense minutes. His response? To turn to the viewer and vow revenge, the premise for the rest of the season. And that is the very first of many private conversations and glances Kevin Spacey’s character has with the audience, which is clearly the most intriguing feature of the show. You are not a sideline spectator of Frank Underwood’s world. You are kneeling close, listening to his every plot and whisper – hearing him like a protege or best friend rather than audience member as he teaches you the properties of power. One such lesson from Frank:
“He chose money over power, in this town a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years, power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I can not respect someone who does not see the difference.”
The plot is thick yet easy to swallow, with plenty of eye-popping twists and turns. It is realistic, it is scary, and terrible fun. It entertains all while teaching the audience a message about the multiple layers beneath every bill and every politician. The baiting, abuse, and ruin of multiple characters can range half an episode to the entire season, resembling the same rapid or media drawn out rises and falls of individuals such as Anthony Weiner and Mark Sanford. I would share more, but giving much detail would steal from the show, so I will say little more about the plot. Buffer up the pilot, and let Frank Underwood tell you himself tonight. Netflix has a winner on their hands, hands that are pushing media into a clouded future. A future in which being “clouded” is not a negative thing.
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