A happy and snowed-out Valentine’s Day to you all. It seems like just yesterday the news broke that this would be the day Mr. Underwood would be peering back through that fourth wall at our fat, ugly selves, winking and nodding his way through some sadistic plot point that only he (or, well, Kevin Spacey) could utter so marvelously and sardonically. But, alas, the moment is here, the launch of the second season of Netflix’s greatest accomplishment to date. And indeed, our masochistic minds are salivating at the chance to check in with Beau Willimon’s version of our nation’s capital once again.
Salivating so much, in fact, that yesterday, impatient fans (or, maybe I should say Very Important Impatient Fans) decided to lash out at the series for no real good reason. Take it away, Mr. Brian Stelter …
“Like a lot of fans of the first season of ‘House of Cards,'” he wrote Thursday, “I’d been planning on starting my binge-view of season two this Friday, the long-awaited release day. But with so many people snowed in along the East Coast, from Georgia to Maine, wouldn’t Thursday make more sense?”
Apparently, a lot of people thought so. Or, well, at least a lot of those Very Important Impatient fans, that is.
Because it’s all fun and games until the press secretary for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio weighs in. After The Mighty Stelt caught word of Netflix’s reiteration that the service indeed was not going to cave to such requests, Alex Conant, the aforementioned Rubio-ite, responded by calling the move … wait for it … “dumb.” Yes. Dumb.
The lesson? When spoiled politicians decide to remind us that they are spoiled politicians, we best pay attention to those spoiled politicians and their demands, gosh darn-it. Because, who knows? If the same thing happens for the second season of “Orange Is The New Black,” maybe Oregon’s House Majority Leader will threaten to shut Nike down.
Anyway, underneath all the hoopla surrounding the mere fact that this second season is finally here is somewhat of a forgotten reality: Such is going to be the first time Big Red has to deal with all the complications that accompany a follow-up run. Part of what made “House of Cards” and “Orange Is The New Black” so zeitgeist-y and acclaimed was the mere fact that expectations were low, if not entirely quelled. But when you get out of the gate hot, and viewers begin to ask about meeting the high bar you set in the first place … well that’s when things can get tricky.
“House of Cards,” in all its glory, is in a bit of a sweet spot currently. Awards season treated it kind, but not overtly great. The buzz behind it continues to maintain a steady volume, but it’s not too loud to alienate its longtime acolytes (side: the series was first seen on this blog almost three years ago now, so thanks a bunch, Frederick News-Post Editors, for maybe thinking about it before budgeting a big, old Sunday package discussing the thing’s local impact, but I digress). The doubters still exist, supplying the viewers with an adequate amount of us-versus-them feel that plays into the ever-important “you just don’t get it” discussion smart fans love to have.
Or, in other words, things are set up well enough for the political drama to succeed this time around, even if its detractors just can’t help themselves from constantly whining about how dark or pretentious it is.
To that we say … well, duh. Dark and pretentious is why we like it!
But back to those detractors. The Current TV Critic Who Is Not Lisa De Moraes at the Washington Post wrote a little about the series recently, and he had some interesting things to say. Let’s have a look at the juiciest first …
“There’s a shocking moment in the first episode where the reason for all the secrecy measures becomes painfully clear,” he wrote. “I’m not going to tell you anything about it, but I defy the Internet to keep its collective yap shut for very long. If you’re a hardcore fan of the show and have built your Valentine’s Day plans around watching it with your snuggle bunny, it might be a good idea to stay offline until you’ve watched the first hour.”
Oh, boy. That’s tough. Good thing I’ve got Kanye West to spend my Valentine’s Day with tonight, (hopefully) taking up enough of my attention to not waste my night glancing through Twitter, mistakingly seeing whatever it is Mr. Stuever is talking about. Goodness, that would be rough.
But on to the more intriguing aspect of his piece: The notion that he didn’t necessarily give the series a favorable review after sitting through the first handful of season one episodes last year. It’s interesting and here’s why:
I’ve had three separate people come to me in the last month and say they just recently found and subsequently finished watching the first season of “Orange Is The New Black.” All three loved it. And all three, for reasons that speed beyond my head, are reluctant or just plain refuse to watch “House of Cards.” And not only do I know that because they have implied as much, but it’s also proven because of my desire to organize something akin to the Mad Men Project I curated a couple years ago for this current House of Cards run. Obviously, I wasn’t able to pull it together this time around. Why? Because I simply didn’t know enough people who actually watched the show.
My point is this: “House of Cards” would love for this second season to go well, yes. But Netflix, for what it’s worth, needs this second season of “House of Cards” to go well in order for it to maintain its status as the edgy, capable alternative to the traditional television model. “Arrested Development” worked, but it didn’t necessarily bring new eyes to the service. Ditto for “Derek,” and as for “Orange” … well, we’ve already discussed that.
So, if the first run of this series marked the first de facto “season” for the Netflix slate — and to be fair, it did — then today, Feb. 14, 2014, marks the beginning of its second at-bat. Yet as most sports fans can tell you, any major-leaguer, big or small, can get lucky enough to hit the first pitch he sees out of the park in inning number one. It’s that follow-up performance that truly turns a collective’s head enough to earn respect in the dugout.
Thus it must be asked: Can “House of Cards” and Netflix do it again? Can they keep the momentum they earned from last year’s surprisingly effective plate appearance and turn that great debut into a long and fruitful career? Will Spacey’s Frank Underwood keep his killing streak alive? Will Robin Wright ever not be the perfect woman cast in such a cold, brilliantly eerie role as his wife? And finally, of course, will David Fincher ever begin work on “The Girl Who Played With Fire?”
The answers to these questions (sans that final one, of course) will unquestionably dictate the future of both “House of Cards” as a TV series and Netflix as a growing company. More importantly, however, they also may dictate the longevity of a medium ripe for permanent change, ripe for revolution. Because if the world of Internet television wants some strong and sturdy legs on which it can stand, this series better be ready to make a run at a hall-of-fame career.
And, most of all, it better realize that a trip back down to the minors, at this point, isn’t even an option.