Friday, March 15, 2013

THE ‘HOUSE OF CARDS’ STANDS TALL


In February this year, Netflix became a pioneer in a new form of series television with an entire season of a brand new series becoming available to subscribers immediately. HOUSE OF CARDS could be the beginning of a TV revolution, but for now, let’s just talk about the show itself…


If Netflix was waiting for the perfect show to make their debut in original content with, they waited for the right one. With Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in key roles, they had my attention. What was fascinating was that the entire first season was out there for people to watch, but redefining the term ‘spoiler’ in television is not all that what one will remember HOUSE OF CARDS for, because the show has enough going for it otherwise. Having just completed the first season, I am thoroughly impressed with how it progressed through thirteen episodes. Carefully plotted through each episode, every detail led up to what eventually happened in the season finale. The premise was simple—a Majority Whip will do anything to get the top job. That made it clear what Frank Underwood’s endgame was. How he manipulates everyone around him to realize his goal became the key in the story, as the people in it became pawns in his political game.

He starts to use people and discarding the ‘collateral damage’, right from the beginning, when he’s snubbed by the new President, who was supposed to make him Secretary Of State. From pulling strings to dangling threats, from offering deals to sabotaging opportunities, from manipulating some individuals to buying silence from others—Frank Underwood does it all, or has it done. He keeps his hands as clean as possible, and finds ways to make himself look like the good guy in the eyes of whoever matters. His association with a journalist gives him a voice that helps him with smaller victories, while his wife supports him in ruthless ways. Underwood’s character is enigmatic and charismatic. He is the perfect politician, and he is not the guy anyone would want to go to war with. As a protagonist, Frank Underwood is as solid as it gets. He relies on his loyal staff, especially his right hand Doug Stamper, who does all his dirty work for him. But his biggest supporter, who champions the big cause, is his wife. Claire Underwood is a strong and intriguing, with so many layers, it’s fascinating to see her going about things, never knowing for sure what she could do next. She’s the one who knows ‘where all the bodies are buried’, because she helped hide them there. She even knows about her husband’s affairs. Having an open marriage is no big price to pay for the end goal. And then there’s the journalist, the ambitious Zoe Barnes, who isn’t afraid to color outside the lines to get ahead. She gets her big break, and basks in the glory that comes with it, despite the fact that it’s because she offers herself as a pawn in Underwood’s game. But as the season progresses, we find out what she’s truly capable of.


When the series begins, we are constantly being taken through the stories of four characters—Frank Underwood, Claire Underwood, Zoe Barnes and Congressman Peter Russo. All are crucial elements in Underwood’s game, but what makes them strong as characters is not just that. The subplots that their individual stories get into are engaging and gripping even before you see their relevance in the bigger scheme of things. Minor details from their lives have more significant and farther-reaching consequences later. And that’s what makes HOUSE OF CARDS such a powerhouse of storytelling. Compelling characters that you might root for, even though you don’t agree with what they’re doing, twists and turns that you would genuinely not see coming, and strong subplots to facilitate those twists…the show has it all. There are a few clichés and a couple of things that you might roll your eyes at, but they are weaved in with the plot in such a way that you’re willing to overlook them. Underwood talking directly to the camera, which presents his thoughts about situations that we see him in, seems a little odd in the beginning, but it becomes quite an interesting narrative tool, even making for some subtle and enjoyable humor.

Stellar performances by Spacey and Wright, and effective portrayals of Barnes and Russo, by Corey Stoll and Kate Mara, respectively, force you to get even more involved than the excellent writing already does. Beau Willimon does an extraordinary job with the writing, adapting the story from the novels (by Michael Dobbs) and British mini-series (of the same name, by Andrew Davies, 1990). With high production values and a very cinematic treatment (including finer details like rolling closing credits), the presentation of the show is perfect. The big names associated with it are not limited to Spacey and Wright. David Fincher (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) directed the first two episodes and also serves as an exec producer. Other accomplished directors like Charles McDougall, James Foley and Joel Schumacher have been at the helm of other episodes. The series is packed with thrilling political drama, showing us the underbelly of dirty politics in not just Washington DC. With adequate proportions of lighter elements and personal human stories, including the very interesting husband-wife relationship between Frank and Claire, this show is definitely among the better new ones this season.


Do you watch HOUSE OF CARDS? Do you agree with all of the above? What do you think of the show? Do share your views below…

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