TV review: Netflix show captures political drama

By Rianna Folds

Netflix has done it again. First, it contributed to Blockbuster’s bankruptcy with on-demand DVDs and online streaming. Now, Netflix is gunning for network and cable television with its first original series, “House of Cards.” The online structure frees Netflix from the formatting and content constraints of regular television. This should worry channels like NBC and HBO, whose DVD sales are already abysmal thanks to streaming sites like Netflix.

This freedom has allowed Netflix to create a rich, addictive show with an A-list cast. Kevin Spacey stars as Frank Underwood, a member of the House of Representatives out for revenge after he gets passed over for secretary of state. Robin Wright is consummate politician’s wife Claire Underwood: a cold, calculating Lady Macbeth. She is the perfect complement to Frank’s cunning, chess-like strategy to get back on his lack of promotion. Kate Mara is Zoe Barnes, a typical overeager (and somewhat annoying) rookie reporter.

Critically acclaimed director David Fincher helms the first two episodes, and his stark cinematography adds quiet gravity to every shady deal and glamorous gala.

Frank’s startling asides are equally compelling. The series premiere opens with Underwood directly addressing the audience as he twists the neck of a canine hit-and-run victim. He continues to do so throughout the show, usually with an eye roll and a snide comment about the person he’s trying to schmooze. The most powerful of these moments comes when Underwood delivers a eulogy at the funeral of a teenager from his South Carolina district. He recounts the profound experience of his father’s death, turns to the camera and, in the same breath, remarks that his father did nothing but take up space.

Instances like these are the genius of “House of Cards.” Viewers become complicit in Underwood’s underhanded dealings and invested in his plans as we gain further access to his thoughts. This tactic is borrowed from the identically titled BBC miniseries that aired in the nineties, which was adapted from a novel by Michael Dobbs, who is currently an executive producer.

Writer Beau Willimon, who gained prior experience writing the political thriller The Ides of March, updates the show to reflect the current political climate. Claire Underwood runs the Clean Water Initiative, a charity that she wants to expand on an international scale. As ruthless as her husband, Claire fires half of her staff in order to hire one person with access to resources she desperately wants.

“House of Cards” certainly has credentials, but it remains to be seen whether audiences will actually buy into this new television format. Viewers may not be willing to purchase Netflix subscriptions simply for its own original series, but this show is definitely worth watching for current subscribers. Netflix caters to fans of binge watching by placing all thirteen season one episodes online at the same time. This could be the beginning of a new era of television, and “House of Cards” is an ambitious start (Hulu’s original series don’t count. Let’s be real. No one watches those.)

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