Welp. It took a little less than a month, but last night, I watched the 13th and final chapter of the first season of Netflix’s “House Of Cards.” It’s in the books. No more Francis and Claire Underwood. No more sex, drugs, corruption and manipulation. No more odd, spotty Southern accent from Kevin Spacey. No more detestable finger-biting from Kate Mara. No more Peter Russo. No more Michael Kelly. And save for any reruns of “Entourage,” no more Constance Zimmer.
As I said a few weeks ago, the victory isn’t that “House of Cards” actually happened; rather, it’s the fact that “House of Cards” actually worked. It worked from a critical standpoint (IMDB currently has it at a rating of 9/10) and it worked from a consumer’s standpoint (I remember reading someone on Twitter once stating something along the lines of “What’s so great about ‘House of Cards’ is that it expects its audience to be smart,” so do with that what you may). It was sleek and it was competent. Yeah, it made a few missteps (still not completely happy with the Zoe/Frank story), but for the most part, it stayed along a wavelength that traveled beyond merely being pretty good. Don’t believe me? Take it from sfgate.com’s Carla Marinucci and Wyatt Buchanan …
“‘I’m obsessed,’ said GOP strategist Amy Thoma, vice president of Stutzman Public Affairs in Sacramento. ‘It’s like evil “West Wing.” And some of the shadier parts are so realistic,’” they reported Sunday. “But while ‘West Wing,’ which ran on NBC from 1999 to 2006, had a ‘best of what we wanted the White House to be’ kind of approach, Thoma said, the entire 13-part ‘House of Cards’ series, launched online in February, is about the bare-knuckled aspects of politics. ‘It plays into the cynicism that people are feeling about Washington,’ she said.”
She’s right. Part of what has made this venture so perfect is its timing. You don’t need to work at C-Span to know how divisive American politics have become over the last decade. Partisan this, partisan that. Nobody gets along, the advancement of a country is sitting in the back seat of a car fueled by personal agendas and yada, yada, yada, and yada. “House of Cards” plays on that exposed nerve by all but confirming our worst suspicions about modern day government. And regardless of whether or not it’s real, it still makes us feel good to know that there are other people in this world who recognize how impossibly screwed up a lot of the most powerful people in the good, old U.S. of A. are.
Yes. The more a television show can be a mirror, the more we like to obsess over analyzing reflections.
In any case, I now come away from the whole experience with two things. And what are they? Goodness, I’m glad you asked:
1) My God, Robin Wright. My favorite screen performances (both large and small) in the history of screen performances (both large and small) always center around ambiguity and poise, and if you get only two adjectives to describe Claire Underwood within this incarnation of the series, they would be … well, you get it. Everything about her is mesmerizing and above all else, she understands how much can be achieved by quietly observing rather than loudly partaking. There isn’t a single thing that I would change about Wright’s take on this character and it is awfully, awfully hard to think that a better female performance will be posted within the bounds of the Emmy calendar (the problem, of course, is the question of if this show will even be considered once the time comes). Simply put, she’s a revelation and while the story centers around Spacey’s antics, the whole operation would have nothing on which it could run if Wright didn’t make this such an addicting and outright amazing role. Besides, she’s got a great haircut.
And 2) This can work. Much was made of the all-at-once approach for release when this show first hit the World Wide Internet on Feb. 1, and there was a part of me that wondered if it would help or hurt the show. The interesting part? I’m not so sure it did either. The common television consumer is so completely done with appointment viewing that all this felt like was a really good HBO show putting out its DVDs (noticeable absence: special features, for which I would have killed to watch last night after the final episode went dark). The trick didn’t stop the normal slew of websites from doing a week-by-week essay on each episode (see this and this) and for the most part, the masses responded more to the quality of each chapter rather than when or how they watched it. Sure, the whole all-at-once thing was a neat footnote to the tale of “House of Cards” and its release, but the impact it had on the complete picture seems minimal if not nonexistent. Some people devoured it in its first weekend. Some people took their time. And some people are still only halfway through the stuff. The point? Nobody cares about how we are subjected to entertainment and television anymore. And if nothing else, this entire approach should be used as a case study in that exact thing when television consumption classes are offered at your nearest liberal arts university. Love it or hate it, Netflix changed the rules forever with this project. That’s one thing nobody can argue.
So … now what? Well, word has it that the second season is under production right now (and if I had five extra minutes in at least one day over the next two months, I would be on the first thing to Harford County to try and talk to Michael Kelly about how he became my favorite male character on the show), and lest we forget the fact that each penny of those 100 million dollars were planned to go toward both the first and second seasons. My biggest fear, of course, is that season two will see the whole narrative go to heck (hey — this is a family website!). I say this only because those who have seen the original BBC incarnation almost unanimously agree that everything after this point is trash. Even so, I hope we can all plan to go into it with an open mind, whenever that day may come.
Actually, whenever that day may come is just one in a long list of questions that now cloud my thoughts about “House of Cards.” As of this writing, I’m unaware of any rollout date for the second season, and maybe most importantly, The Big Red Envelope continues to remain mum on how successful the venture has been. None of this can truly be dissected until we get something solid about how well (or not well) the series was received from a numbers perspective. Only then can we wax poetic on the true relevance or influence of this particular project.
As for the here and now … well, I’m off to Austin, Texas, and South by Southwest. Therefore, this silly, little blog will go unattended to for the next week or so. That sight you hear is … nothing — no one reads this, remember?! In any case, if I may offer up a completely shameless plug, you can follow my coverage of the music activities at said conference on Twitter @colinpadraic (my God, after nearly two years, it still feels untoward and dirty to type something like that).
And yes, after catching wind of this news earlier today, expect a love-letter to Lisa De Moraes next week, assuming I make it back in one piece. If nothing else, my tears from that announcement will help float me back to Maryland.