‘House Of Cards’: Season 1 Review

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We’re only talking about House Of Cards because of its method of delivery. It’s a slightly below average show that is only getting large press because of it’s revolutionary mode of having the entire first season available at one time on the streaming service Netflix. Well, there’s the Kevin Spacey and David Fincher draw as well, but even big stars like that get washed over after awhile. That’s the thing though, Netflix knew they needed to play it safe, having a show with equal draw to all demographic as their first foray into original television. House Of Cards is a straight-down the middle show, not too controversial to appeal to all, but with some racy elements to satisfy the “cable” drama type viewers, everybody likes political intrigue and behind-the-door dealings, and like I said earlier, has the draw of Spacey and Fincher with a great actor and an auteur with his own stylistic flourishes. Hemlock Grove is too niche and genre to start out with and altough Arrested Development has devoted fans, it’s too segregated to start out of the gate with it. House Of Cards is perfect because it’s just so average, not terrible, but no “Sopranos,” ‘Breaking Bad,’ or ‘The Shield.’ either, it’s just there.

On a more base content level, ‘House Of Cards’ is like ‘Entourage.’ Yes, that HBO “comedy” series of a few months back with a couple good seasons at the start, and some godawful ones that killed its early success. More specifically, Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood is exactly like Adrian Grenier’s Vinny Chase in that aforementioned show. At the start of any given episode or season of ‘Entourage’ Vinny and his crew might be faced with getting fired from a movie, or getting into money troubles or with the law, but rest assured these problems or obstacles agains the main character aren’t faced for long, by the end of the episode or season, everything is neatly and easily tied up, and Vinny remains on top of the world with no problems. This is how House Of Cards treats Frank Underwood, he might get down for the better part of an episode, but always comes out on top, unscathed and better than everybody else. Nothing drags him down for an extended period of time. Whether it’s troubles with an eduction bill and its opponents, his handling of Peter Russo or his maneuvering into a possible Vice-Presidency slot, he never faces obstacles that have everlasting repercussions. It’s hard to get behind or invest yourself in a character or show when the dramatic tension and events are always skewed towards the main characters’ victories, and by sticking to this plan it ruins surprises or twists, or in actuality makes them non-existent as the end result can be clearly seen as choreographed to Underwood’s end.

Whereas it was hard for me to fully understand the characertization of Underwood and how he was being manipulated to an easy end by the writers, Corey Stoll’s character Peter Russo who was running for Governor of Pennsylvania became  my favourite character and best storyline of the entire show. Russo was a flawed as a drug addict and alcoholic, but who at his heart was a good man who wanted change for his constituents, and after getting clean was well on the way towards his goals. Of course, Underwood was behind the scenes pulling the strings and ultimately led to his death, both physically and strategically. Russo worked as a character and storyline because there was always a tinge of uncertainty, whether it be with his addictions, his family and significant other relationships, his dealing as a political leader and connections to the larger world of politics. Nothing was set in stone with Russo, and unlike Underwood who you could always see the directions of his moves, Russo could go either way, and it was understandable within the show and believable for him either way to fall back or spring forward. Corey Stoll did fantastic work in his limited run, and I’m concerned for the show going forward that its best element of the season and one which was the most consistent is by and large gone.

I enjoy Robin Wright as an actor, and she was largely good in this, but was hardly  given anything of great heft to do, and was subsequently left hanging around the sidelines. I’d love for her to take a step forward in the next season and get an actual, you know, storyline where she can stretch her legs (figuratively and literally would be nice……) and maybe become an antagonistic force to her husband or others, as it seemed the way they pushed her slightly in the first season. Her relationship with her husband is interesting in their love for each other running alongside a equal parallel of distance and separation between the two. Broadening this out into a storyline or a catalyst for a motivation on her end towards her husband, with lasting ramifications would do wonders to separate herself and give her some room to operate. I’m a fan of Kate Mara as well, she’s a decent actor and fine to look at, and although that’s what we got to start the show, she became more and more a problem and nuisance as the season went on. At first she was a main component of the show, forcing her way up the newspaper ranks, beginning a sexual relationship with Underwood in exchange for scoops that she used to further herself. Unfortuantely, this fizzled into nothing, and her character had little to no bearing on the events of the close of the season. Usually these storylines would dovetail with the larger goings-on, but nothing fell from it that was worth any weigh at all. She just remained on the fringes and further drifting away from the centre of the show. It seems like she’s being set up to further dig into Underwood’s administration now that they are at odds, it could be fun, who knows, all I do is that they should’ve killed her off instead of Russo.

House Of Cards is just there, it doesn’t really push anything forwards too much and is nothing we haven’t seen in a thousand other shows. It just has an inside edge and advantage, not because of its content, but because how we were exposed to it and supposed to view it. These outside factors shouldn’t affect how we understand the show, view and criticize it, but unfortunately in some circles it seems like it has. It has the potential to be a great show as long it doesn’t wallow in the storylines and easy decisions that will guarantee viewers, but never pushing into anything worthy of thinking about or reading into beyond entertainment and escape. I think they could do it, but I really doubt they want to.


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