TV Review: House of Cards (2013)

House of CardsLoosely 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.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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24 thoughts on “TV Review: House of Cards (2013)

  1. mettelray says:

    I love Spacey! I think he makes a perfect guy for this role, he is incredibly thrilling to watch and somehow you cross your fingers for him even though he is sometimes pure evil.

  2. I love this show, Spacey, Robbin Wright. I watched all 13 episodes during one weekend.

  3. ruth says:

    Very cool Chris! I still haven’t gone past the 2nd episode but I really like what I saw so far! Amazing that they spent over $100m for this but the show does look good and they sure spent the money on great talents!

  4. I’m about halfway through the show and I am loving it so far. Major props to Netflix for pulling this off — I hope it is profitable enough for them to keep trying new shows like this.

    I also liked your analogy of this being a mix between The West Wing and the fifth season of The Wire. Pretty spot on.

    • Yeah I thought that pretty much summed it up to be honest, and I love both those shows so it’s definitely no bad thing! I think a lot of people thought this wouldn’t work not being through a major TV company but it looks to have succeeded so far. Hope you enjoy the second half as much as the first!

  5. filmhipster says:

    I’m looking forward to sitting down and watching this one weekend.

  6. sati says:

    I liked the show in the beginning but then it became stale and I wasn’t fond of watching any of those characters. I kept waiting for something exciting to happen and I was quite disappointed. Comparing to many fantastic TV series nowadays this really was mediocre for me, Spacey was good but the story…not so much. I’m not going to watch the next season.

    • I remember you saying you weren’t a big fan of this which is a shame, but I can appreciate this isn’t to everyone’s tastes. There are a few lulls in places but I thought it definitely picked up in the final third of the season. And I thought the performances were enough to cover up any slow pacing.

  7. Been hearing everyone talking about this over the last little while, but I haven’t found the time for it. Hopefully soon.

  8. ckckred says:

    I’m a big fan of David Fincher, but I’ve let this one sit in my Netflix que for a while. I’ll know I’ll see this eventually though. Nice review.

  9. I saw the first two episodes before time constraints pulled me away- I plan to burn through the rest of the first season some point in the future. It’s definitely top-tier TV, but what interests me the most is Netflix’s decision to release it all in one go. With that decision it seems less like a TV show and more like some kind of TV/miniseries/extremely long film hybrid.

    • It is interesting how they’ve released it, I wonder if it’ll somehow change how TV is made in any way. People like to binge watch and they’re impatient and want to see what happens. Only if it’s any good, obviously!

  10. vinnieh says:

    I’ll have to check this out as I’m a fan of Kevin Spacey.

  11. Alex Withrow says:

    Glad you liked this show. I’m not usually into TV, but I crushed all of these out in two days – loved everything about it. So pumped it is eligible for Emmy consideration. Spacey was just a beast, wasn’t he?

    Liked your comparisons to The West Wing and The Wire. I think that’s definitely fair.

    • The West Wing comparison is an easy one to make and this is a lot darker than that but I think it has huge similarities in tone and even plot to a certain extent with the final season of The Wire.
      That’s awesome it is eligible for the Emmys, I can definitely see Spacey in the mix for that and maybe the show in general. It definitely deserves to be in my opinion.

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