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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 had a weakness for power. He breathed it, sweated it. For more than 20 years, he walked the halls of power in Congress, rising through the ranks. But wasn't enough for him. He wanted the big chair in the Oval Office, and he would—and did—kill to get it.

"That's how you devour a whale," he says. "One bite at a time."

But in so doing he became that whale. And then the entrée. Now Frank's political friends and enemies and even his darling wife—the woman who herself rapidly rose from First Wife to Vice President to, now, Madame President—are dining, and choking on, the leftovers.

Machiavellian Plans

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, certainly not in the show's final act. Delving deeply into the imagined muck of the Beltway, following the Underwoods' Machiavellian machinations 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.

Produced and launched (but not consistently directed) by David Fincher (the Oscar-nominated director of The Social Network, 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 rivals such as 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." It put Netflix on the map. And like Frank Underwood, Netflix never looked back.

But Netflix did, perhaps a bit ironically, ax Frank Underwood.

Underwood Unloaded

Kevin Spacey, who played the duplicitous Underwood, was the show's unquestioned megawatt star for most of its run, becoming a perennial Emmy nominee. But after more than a dozen men and teen boys accused Spacey of sexual harassment and assault, he was booted from the show and his character was killed off, making way for his fictional wife (played by Robin Wright) to claim the show's Oval Office.

But while Wright's Claire Underwood has made a break from the past (even reclaiming her maiden name, Hale), the dirty tricks remain the same. And just like Frank before her, nothing will stop Claire from advancing her agenda.

House of Cards was the original poster child for binge-watching, and few binged more than the District of Columbia's own politicians. Former 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 short of being must-see TV. Indeed, the MA-rated show makes for some seriously uncomfortable viewing.

Politics as Usual? Hopefully Not

The political maneuvering on the show 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 ... but 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 hardcore 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 despite all of its buzz, House of Cards still hits well below the Beltway.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Nov. 1, 2018: "Chapter 66"
House of Cards: May 30, 2017 "Chapter 54"
House-of-Cards: 2-27-2015
House-of-Cards: 2-14-2014
House-of-Cards: 2-1-2013



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; Diane Lane as Annette Shepherd; Greg Ninnear as Bill Shepherd






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay