House of Cards proves Netflix works

Reinventing television, through structure and accessibility

A PROMOTIONAL IMAGE FROM NETFLIX showing Kevin Spacey’s character Frank Underwood.

This month is a bit of a bust for television. For most programs, there is a month long lull between episodes because most shows don’t want to compete with the Olympics. And I understand that; however, I’ve been a bit sad to find no interesting programming. But that all ended last Friday, when Netflix came to my rescue and released the second season of House of Cards.

Before I begin reviewing the season, I’ll start with my opinions on Netflix’s release and syndication of new shows. I’ve seen four of Netflix’s exclusive programming so far, Lilyhammer, Arrested Development, Orange is the New Black, and of course, House of Cards. The only one I did not enjoy of these four is Lilyhammer, but to be fair, the series was broadcasted in Norway before Netflix picked it up, so it isn’t a Netflix original program. But while I did not enjoy the show, I enjoyed the formatting. Although I sound like an advertisement, I truly am a huge fan of Netflix’s original programming and the way it’s released. Unlike regular television, you don’t have to wait week to week for new programming, also, it is accessible at any time, and you can go to any point in the series, allowing you to watch the show without stress of missing an episode or falling behind. It’s no-stress entertainment, and though I may be having a rant inside of a rant here, I like it much better than Hulu. Hulu’s decided to follow suit with their own original programming, which having experienced some, is not up to par with Netflix’s. Netflix has received an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and even an Academy Award nomination. The truth is I hold Hulu’s content to a higher standard than Netflix’s, seeing as it is jointly owned by NBC, Fox, and ABC/Disney. With these three powerhouses, it seems almost unfathomable to me that their content is not on the same level as Netflix’s.

This brings me back to the episode structure and the huge difference between Netflix and Hulu: commercials. Even if you pay for Hulu Plus, you still have to deal with commercials in your viewings. This is frustrating, television is meant to be a structured segment of entertainment with commercial intermissions, but is something we’ve been conditioned to deal with it. However, on a computer or device where everything must be delivered in an instant, advertisements don’t slide. And Netflix’s programming triumphs through this. By not having to deal with breaks, an episode of a show is more cohesive, and an hour long episode is no longer the TV 40 minutes, but actually an hour long. This allows every show to have more content for the user to enjoy, and it is certainly appreciated.

Now that my rant is over, I can go back to House of Cards. The show opens up as it always does, with short panning time lapses of D.C. as shadows grow larger and night descends. The music evokes Americana, the snares rolling in and the trumpet blaring, leading into a piano that steals the spotlight, sneaking through the piece, setting the tone for the series. As the final clip of the US Capitol is shown, an upside down American flag, a universal symbol of distress, fades in along with the title. The lead is the Southern Democrat and House Majority Whip Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey. He is a ruthless and calculated man who is willing to move and sacrifice others to move up the political food chain. Although he is certainly a bad person and I do not condone any actions he takes, I find it quite hard not to want to be in his corner.

First, he’s not your normal lead character. I find it refreshing to see a southern lead character that is not portrayed as a moron or stereotypical hard right conservative. Instead, the creators chose him to be a Democrat, showing him to be smart enough to win support as a congressman in an area many liberal candidates could not win. Second, I love the relationship with his wife Claire, played by Robin Wright.The series begins with her running the Clean Water Initiative, a nonprofit that hides both of the spouses sinister motives.

The series is set up in the first season as a revenge story; Underwood is passed over a position he was promised by campaigning for the president. Underwood feels cheated, so he does everything in his power to bring those who wronged him down. Through this, many topics are explored, including the media, scandal, and the dangers of influence.

For those who have not and want to see the show, I suggest you not read ahead, as I will be revealing important details of the first season.

This new season came out of the gate with a bang. It really donkey punches the viewer and takes them for a ride that is unlike the first season. While in the first season, towards the end at least, it seems as though they set up Zoe Barnes as the person at the lead of these trying to take Underwood down, but that is not the case. Many players come forward as Underwood gains the vice presidency, and it allowed for a greater look at current events. This season touched on cyber security, foreign relations with China, and Super PACs. If you ever look at a newspaper, which I hope you do since you’re reading one, then you will enjoy seeing many recent issues explored in a fictionalized way in this season.

As always, the sound design and acting is on point; however, I had one small issue with effects. There is a scene where Underwood goes to a baseball stadium, and for the life of me, I could not understand how that scene was allowed to be broadcasted, it was obvious Spacey and fans were composited into the shot, and although those who don’t have much experience in filmmaking might not notice, I was a bit annoyed, a high profile show would have scene that, in my opinion, is ruined by visuals that should be blended seamlessly into the piece.

But this is a little criticism for a show even President Barack Obama is a fan of, and truth be told, I’m not surprised. I see the show as almost an “anti” West Wing. While the West Wing included people dedicated to do what’s right and compromise for the greater good of the American people, House of Cards is full of perverse liars and conniving wolves. These animals circle around each other, waiting for some hole in their guard to be exposed, then tear them apart. And that gets to the core of what makes Underwood hard not to root for, he’s the alpha of the wolves, watching him destroy those who stand in his way is an evil kind of fun that I haven’t seen in any television show of recent history.

House of Cards is a political drama that focuses on what makes the Capitol Hill an immature elementary school playground. Getting favors, finding dirt, using gossip, that’s all there is to being a successful politician in this world. If you enjoyed the first season of House of Cards, it will be difficult not to like the second.