Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ deals a winning first hand

Photo from Screenrant.

Photo from Screenrant.

Netflix’s new political TV drama starring Kevin Spacey is making waves in more ways than one.

The show premiered Feb. 1 on Netflix in its 13-episode entirety. Rather than following in the footsteps of shows like “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones” on cable TV platforms like AMC or HBO and releasing a new episode every week, “House of Cards” is featured in its entire first season on Netflix’s online streaming service.

What does this mean for the future of TV? Will other cable networks follow suit in breaking an age-old television tradition? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless, “House of Cards” is pretty damn good.

In hoping to launch their own programming with “House of Cards” as the first of a new line of shows, Netflix is evidently setting itself up to compete with the cable TV bigwigs. They spared no expense in talent in order to do so, bringing aboard David Fincher (“Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) as an executive producer and director of the first two episodes.

“House of Cards” stars Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood, a congressman with high ambitions and the political know-how to go about achieving them. When Underwood is shorted by the President-Elect, Garrett Walker (Michael Gill), by refusing him the post of Secretary of State, Underwood seethes and schemes, weaving spider-webs of lies, blackmail and sordid backroom deals, all in an effort to completely ruin his rivals. He’s encouraged by his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), who runs a non-profit organization and finds herself increasingly mixed up in his plots.

Netflix is gambling on the show’s audiences to devour “House of Cards” in a single marathon sitting, but is it worth your time to sit down and engage this show on that level?  The first episode of any new show often cues you in to whether or not you’ll be in it for the long haul. “House of Cards” delivers in just its first episode.

Spacey is a wonder to watch as Underwood. He’s three parts slimeball, two parts suave and all parts entirely selfish. He might be the show’s lead, but he’s about as heroic as Tony Soprano. Yet, when he’s shafted by the winning-smile-personified, President-Elect Walker, you can’t help but root for the guy. Sure, he might be a sleazebag with all the morality of a wild pig, but he is good at what he does and what he does is screw over all the other slimeballs in D.C. Plus, at multiple points in the episode, Underwood breaks the fourth wall and, in peculiar fashion, addresses the audience directly. It’s like Kevin Spacey direct from your TV.

As a political drama, where else would “House of Cards” be set but Washington, D.C.? The original BBC miniseries of the same name and the novel by Michael Dobbs were set in London, but Fincher’s “House of Cards” is planted firmly in American soil. The camera pans over scenic sights, Capitol Hill, the National Mall, the waters of the Potomac, which stand in pristine contrast to the dirty work of national politics.

Other characters figure prominently into the series’ plot. Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) is a congressman from Pennsylvania whose ethically barren behavior puts him at the mercy of Underwood’s blackmail. Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) is a reporter for The Washington Herald, trying to break out of beat reporting beneath her skills, and ends up striking a deal with the Devil (AKA Underwood). The acting in “House of Cards” meets the expectations from a show directed by David Fincher, though it doesn’t entirely exceed them. It’s difficult finding anything morally redeemable about any of the characters, though this strangely doesn’t interfere with the audience’s commitment to the show’s plot or character arcs. They’re awful people, but they’re awfully interesting.

The plot is artfully engaging. Though not in the same vein as HBO’s “Veep” with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “House of Cards” banks on the same interest American audiences have in the perceived political game played by their elected representatives. Are Fincher and the rest of the show’s heads trying to make a statement about the condition of our political system? Maybe, maybe not. Netflix committed to 26 episodes over two seasons and based on the first episode alone, “House of Cards” is off to a promising start.

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Speakeasy Rating: A

“House of Cards”

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll

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