Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

House of Cards


First, what makes this unique, is that it was the first big production from Netflix, which is trying to get into the game with HBO and all the other cable players. Even stranger, all the episodes were debuted on the same day, all thirteen hours of it. Very strange. Since we don’t subscribe to Netflix streaming service, we had to wait until they brought it out on DVD, and now we’re starting.

When I heard of this project I was dubious. It’s based on a BBC series of the same name, that ran for three seasons. It was over not because it was tired out, but because there was nowhere to go. The story was over, and they knew better than to force another one. They’re good about things like that over in the UK, not wearing out their welcome, like Fawlty Towers or The Office knowing when to end it before the jokes got stale.

The original was simply one of the best things I had ever seen on TV. The great Ian Richardson played a manipulator in England’s House of Commons, scheming his way toward the Prime Ministership. Obviously things work differently in America’s House of Representatives … but not all that differently. Back-stabbing is still the same. Betrayal is just like it is in England. Conniving, dirty deals, hoodwinking, and blackmailing are just the same. Murder is the same. And yes, there is murder on Francis Urquhardt’s path to the top job. See my reviews of the three series to learn more.

One thing that gave me hope was the casting of Kevin Spacey in the lead role, here renamed to Francis Underwood. If anyone could pull off the suave deviousness of the man they took to calling FU, and have as much sheer fun as Richardson and FU did while screwing everyone in sight, Spacey would be the one. If anyone could break the fourth wall as naturally as Richardson, turning to us to deliver his snide comments about what has just happened or is about to happen, if anyone could deliver FU’s famous line, which became a line actually quoted in Parliament … “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment” … it would be KS.

It’s all very much Richard III meets MacBeth, with Robin Wright as FU’s Lady MacBeth, fully as devious as her husband, fully as ambitious. We have now seen the first three episodes, and so far, so good.

(LATER) We got our Netflix streaming back, so we’ve been watching three episodes per night, and have four more to go. The series is proceeding at a more leisurely pace than the BBC one did, taking more time for small details, adding plot points suited to the American political system but not to the British Parliament. My recollection is that in the BBC series FU’s wife had a much smaller part to play that Robin Wright has here, but that’s not a bad thing. Neither is the slower pace. We’re both still hooked … and I’m really waiting to see if the girl reporter suffers the same fate as she did in the original, which was a shock on a scale that even George RR Martin would have thought twice about. (I haven’t seen Game of Thrones, but I read the news stories, and know he delivered a shocker.)

(EVEN LATER) We finished in record time, and now are pondering what to watch now that we’ve opted for Netflix streaming instead of our old one-DVD-at-a-time plan. The fact is, the pickings are still damn slim. I can’t imagine why people would prefer this plan … unless they intend to catch up on a lot of television. They offer hundreds of series, 95% of which I’ve never even heard of, with once in a while one like Breaking Bad and Mad Men that I’ve heard good things about and thought I might like to see some day. But movies? Forget about it. Not many at all, and those mostly ten, twenty years old. With new releases, your choices (other than pirated downloads, which crime we refuse to participate in) are still the Netflix DVD plan, pay-per-view, or Redbox. (Oh, yeah, there’s still Blockbuster, I guess, if you really like to overpay.) So I guess we’ll keep this plan for a month, then switch back to DVDs.

So, back to the series … It is not as good as the original, but I never expected it to be. That doesn’t prevent it from being pretty damn good. We were brought up a little short when it ended, just sort of stopped, right after FU seems to have nailed down the vice-presidential spot, which all his machinations over thirteen episodes were in aid of. A very devious plan, considering that most of the occupants of that position have agreed with John Nance Garner’s assessment, that it ain’t worth a bucket of warm spit. However, we know FU well enough that we never thought he was aiming for anything but the White House, and the one thing that the VP-ship has been good for in the past is an overnight ticket to Hail to the Chief. Through death (which FU is not above), or through something as unlikely as Gerald Ford’s path to the top. So we eagerly await the next series, which I understand they are filming now.