Jan 22, 2015

[TV] House of Cards: Season 1

Had one of those classic blogging moments when I was preparing to write a review for season two of House of Cards when I discovered that I had never gotten around to writing a review for season one first. Silly me. So I had to juggle things around on the back end just to get this review slotted earlier.

House of Cards ended up being the Netflix show that I feel like I should have invested in first when we were all wondering if Netflix could decently pull off an original series. And while Orange is the New Black is entertaining in a different way, this show really speaks to me on a whole different level.

And I've just discovered that I didn't write a review for the first season of Orange is the New Black either. Crazy.

Anyway, some of the key things that really make this show shine apart from the brilliant performance of Kevin Spacey is really about the themes explored by the show. More than just being about politics, this is a show about power and how to wield it masterfully. And in this case. our dark protagonist has a pretty clear goal in mind and is prepared to do everything that it takes to cross that finish line.

Synopsis: House of Cards is a political drama series based on the BBC mini-series of the same name, which in turn had been based on a novel by Michael Dobbs. It had been adapted for television by Beau Willimon and is one of the first TV ventures by Netflix. This first season received 4 Golden Globe nominations and a good number of Emmy Award nominations (the categories confuse me). Robin Wright won the Golden Globe for Best Actress - Television Series Drama.

The series largely revolves around Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who is a Democratic Congressman from South Carolina and is the House Majority whip. He had strongly supported the presidential campaign of Garrett Walker (Michel Gill) with the expectation to be named Secretary of State. After the election, however, Walker decides to ignore the earlier deal with the justification that he feels Frank is needed more in the House. Frank does his best to contain his anger at this news and instead focuses on a greater scheme to get his revenge by rising up the ranks instead in order to draw power to himself.

Frank's wife, Claire (Robin Wright), is no pushover either. She runs a charity known as the Clean Water Initiative (CWI), but it becomes clear that she too is eager to gain more power and influence alongside her husband. She decides to reorganize CWI move beyond its national scope and instead work to support international well-digging efforts. Thus it becomes clear that she's just as ruthless and pragmatic as his husband given the changes she implements. We also follow the story of young reporter Zoe Barnes, who is also eager to rise in status. She manages to catch Frank's attention and the two begin a relationship of mutual benefit.

The series primarily follows events from Frank's perspectives and also includes a good number of moments when he breaks the fourth wall in order to address the audience directly. He's more than willing to share his unique views of the world and how power works while demonstrating just what he means. It's not exactly a new filming mechanic, but it's one that is used quite masterfully as Frank actually engages the audience right in the middle of a scene involving other characters. They are oblivious to these moments and thus we just follow along in his greatness as secret confidants.

At first it seems like Frank is just responding to situation after situation one after the other. There's a lot that the House majority whip has to involve himself with on a daily basis, especially one who was such a public supporter of the new president. But over time it becomes more and more clear that he has a greater plan in mind and he's sowing the seeds that will bear fruit much later on. And the extent of his planning and his ability to predict human behavior is rather chilling at times.

Then you have his wife Claire, who often appears cold and aloof - so far away from Wright's young years when she was the Princess Bride. But you also get to see how Claire and Frank work as a couple. It may not be a relationship full of passion and romance, but it's quite the powerful union of two like-minded individuals. And their goals remains clearly aligned with one another and both won't let anything get in their way.

The show is a lesson in power, control, manipulation and all the other things that we fear most about government or big business. It's scary in how simple they make all their manipulations appear to be and the fact that they get results time and time again. I won't even get into talking about Rachel Barnes and her efforts to keep up with Frank's manipulations. She's just another pawn in this game.

House of Cards is a brilliant series and one that didn't officially appear on traditional television. Netflix clearly demonstrated that they have the tools to create some amazing entertainment when they put this show together. Thus it's far too easy to give this show 5 full plates of those delicious ribs that Frank loves out of a possible 5.

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