Loosely based on the 1990 British miniseries of the same name, House of Cards is the baby of NetFlix, the movie streaming service that is growing from strength to strength. NetFlix pumped over $100m into the series and did something a little different by releasing the whole series online at once rather than adding a new episode each week, as would happen were it on television.
On the surface, House of Cards is a simple revenge tale. When Francis ‘Frank’ Underwood (Kevin Spacey) gets screwed over for the Secretary of State post in the White House, he plots revenge on those who betrayed him. However, it goes a lot deeper than that as Frank manipulates various other characters including young newspaper reporter Zoe (Kate Mara), Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) and even his own wife Claire (Robin Wright).
Each episode has a complex and twisting plot that is easy to lose track of. It can take rather a large amount of concentration to follow everything, especially when certain plot lines disappear for a few episodes before cropping back up. This makes the decision to release all the episodes at once a good one as it allows you to plough through it reasonably quickly and keep track of the various plot strands. A knowledge of US politics is also a recommended prior to watching as it can be tricky to work out who does what and why in the White House.
Having said that, the majority of the storylines themselves are immensely absorbing, whether you’re learning tidbits of Frank’s past, watching Peter struggle to handle his drinking problem, or witness Zoe do whatever it takes to get a good story. Sometimes, particularly with Frank’s backstabbing, it can be difficult to see what the consequences of his actions are. You’re often aware that someone has been screwed over but you’re not quite sure how or why.
What can’t be denied, however, is that Kevin Spacey is nothing short of phenomenal. He is manipulation through and through as Frank and he immediately makes you drawn to him even if some of his actions are rather abhorrent. Wright and Stoll provide excellent support work, but this is all about Spacey and Frank. One of the things that makes the character stand out is his fourth wall-breaking asides to camera. These are likely to polarise opinion and those that give you an insight into Frank’s mind are infinitely more entertaining that those that simply explain what’s going on.
House of Cards is an excellent piece of drama, well written, superbly acted and has some stellar talent on board (David Fincher directs a couple of episodes as well as being exec producer). It falls somewhere in between The West Wing and season five of The Wire and is a strong starting point from which to build upon, both as a show and as a model for television production.