House of Cards
TV Series Review
Power corrupts, goes the old adage. And the more power you want, the more corrupt you have to be to get it.
Francis Underwood has a weakness for power. He breathes it, sweats it. For more than 20 years, he has walked the very halls of power in Congress, rising through the ranks to become majority whip. But it's not enough for him and throughout the three seasons (so far) of Netflix's House of Cards, we see the lies he'll tell, the schemes he'll hatch and the laws he'll break to get the power he believes he deserves.
"That's how you devour a whale," he says. "One bite at a time."
He's eaten that whale now. He's president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world. Now the question is, can he keep all that blubber down?
As always, there are loose ends dangling. People to eliminate. Politicians to be groomed and/or derailed. Reporters to squelch. Clearly, Underwood isn't done yet, not by a longshot. There's too much work to be done, too much dirt to dig into, too many secrets—and potentially bodies—to bury. And we wonder if the effort might become too much ... even for his cold, dark heart.
House of Cards is a reimagining of a 1990 BBC miniseries (which was based on a novel by Michael Dobbs). But little of that British beginning remains here. Delving deeply into the imagined muck of the Beltway, following Underwood's Machiavellian moves with a sort of detached relish, this series feels inherently American. Not in a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington way, but rather in a democratic-underbelly-we-hope-isn't-real-but-fear-might-be way.
Fronted and launched (but not consistently directed) by David Fincher (the Oscar-nominated director of Gone Girl and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), this political drama has an A-list cast and a glamorous sheen of prestige. "I felt for the past 10 years that the best writing that was happening for actors was happening in television," Fincher told hitfix.com. "And so I had been looking to do something that was longer form." Netflix outbid cable channels like HBO and AMC to land the program, believing it was the perfect beginning in its effort to build its own brand of Emmy-worthy "television."
Indeed, with all episodes of each successive season getting unveiled to website subscribers at once, House of Cards has become the poster child for binge-watching, and few binge more than the District of Columbia's own politicians. President Barack Obama even tweeted before Netflix unveiled the second season: "Tomorrow: @HouseOfCards. No spoilers, please."
But while the writing is sharp and the acting keen, the series falls far short of must-see TV. Indeed, the MA-rated show makes for some seriously uncomfortable viewing.
The political positioning is clearly underhanded and often illegal, sometimes even murderous—a problematic, if expected, aspect of the series. Sex is both pastime and weapon for these gladiator politicians as they work hard to keep their sordid interludes away from the eyes of the press ... and in full view of online viewers. Indeed, sex scenes can be very graphic—occasionally as explicit and skin-centric as anything one might see on HBO's Game of Thrones. F- and s-words make regular appearances. As do hard-core drugs. The spiritual vibe can be offensive. And violence is merely another "tool."
If House of Cards was a feature film, not a TV series, it'd fit comfortably and undeniably under a scarlet R rating. So for all its buzz, the chilling House of Cards hits well below the Beltway.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood; Robin Wright as Claire Underwood; Kate Mara as Zoe Barnes; Kevin Kilner as Michael Kern; Jayne Atkinson as Catherine Durant; Larry Pine as Bob Birch; Kristen Connolly as Christina Gallagher; Corey Stoll as Peter Russo; Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper; Sakina Jaffrey as Linda Vasquez; Michael Gill as President Walker; Molly Parker as Jackie Sharp