Despite the availability of the new Netflix original series’ 13 chapters, I’m going into this with just a toe in the water to start: exposure to just the first 50+ minute episode, and hesitation from even glancing at episode summaries so not to alter my perspective, reactions and expectations.
(And I will try my damnedest to refrain from making card-related puns, but no promises)
“House of Cards” is Netflix’s second bout in the original, big-name, episodic entertainment arena, but you probably know about the background by now, especially if you’re reading this, so we can skip THAT battleground and dive right into the show. Plus, with all of the announcements and news surrounding more green-lighted original streaming shows coming out daily, we’ll tackle that luchador soon.
It’s a good show. I probably should rephrase that as “It was a good episode”, as no series is given the free pass from putting a bullet in its foot in the initial, but it was enjoyable. Even coming from a short-attention-spaned, would-rather-watch-nostalgic-childhood-programming 20-something, there were enough moving parts to keep me interested … but it’s not without its bumps.
To launch us into the fray, I really enjoy the style of HoC. When the initial trailers/previews came out, I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing, which included a lot of on-screen narration and fourth-wall breaks by Kevin Spacey, was original promo material, or actual content, and I’m happy to say it is a reoccurring device in the show. A lot of people aren’t a fan of programming that tells a story, rather than just showing them, but it is incredibly effective for HoC to introduce a lot of characters and ideas without starting at character development square one. It also doesn’t feel like a spoon-feeding of facts and details, due to Spacey’s genuine delivery, as if he’s narrating for himself in the anticipation of the onset of Alzheimer’s, or something of the like. It feels like he’s addressing someone on his level when it occurs. Spacey’s character’s dry wit also seeps in from time to time to lighten transitions between overlapping plot points, and draws a nice sweet to sour line drawn from the tenser material.
The pacing is also well-managed, while David Fincher sits at the Directing (Chapters 1 & 2, exclusively) and Executive Producing helms of the program. Minimalistic lulls in the perpetuation of Spacey’s drive to achieve allows for fast-paced exchanges and hand-offs. Think of it like the pacing of Fincher’s action movies, but without the action bit. “Fight Club” meets “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” with a dash of “Our Town” (if “Our Town” was the epicenter of the free world). You won’t be able to multi-task stream to this one.
I also believe that casting choices have been strong so far, regardless of role size, but leads Spacey and Robin Wright are definitely the break-aways on this one. The pair (playing husband and wife) starts strong and does not dial it down. Even one-on-one scenes have a certain cadence and tone that remains consistent throughout, creating silhouettes of very, very aggressive characters. Kate Mara joins the first chapter as a hungry reporter in D.C. looking for some sort of angle to lift her above council meeting articles, and does a great job as a neutral underdog character, but I may have ruined a bit of the series for myself by reading on IMDB.com that she only appears in two episodes*, despite my enjoyment over the dynamic of her character’s interactions with Spacey. Her capacity for an outsider status with insider know-how makes her the easiest to root for in my opinion (but that perspective is clouded by a journalism minor) since her actions are, in all rights, legal. Either way, Mara is great with Spacey, Wright is great with Spacey, and Spacey is … great.
The issue that I do have from the get-go is that there are a few lesser plot points that have the potential to grow as the game goes forward, but are hard to stomach in round one. For example, the storyline featuring an irresponsible Representative brought into Spacey’s fold, played by Corey Stoll, carried a lot of sex and scandal (yes, in the first episode) but it came off as somewhat unnecessary. It was an attempt to provide background for the character to depict where his morals lie, but they almost served more as commercial breaks for me. The character is effectively portrayed as smarmy, but, until he gains relevance within the series (many a seemingly unneeded scene from his introduction) there’s little put forth to get me to care. Had there not been a number of exchanges about his character to reveal a larger part of the whole in the future, I would rule him out, but I’ll give him a stay of execution … for now.
The show is pretty, smart, funny, deep, interesting, timely, and such and so on to include a long string of compliments. I do think it’s worth your time to investigate. Political-drama fan or not, it’s worth an hour. From here on out, I’m left with an interest and inclination to continue down the rabbit hole, but not so gripping that I was able to sit down and power this out instead. I wouldn’t say, “Sign up for Netflix in order to get access for ‘House of Cards’ exclusively”, but I am willing to wholeheartedly endorse it.
*Author’s note: I am incredibly happy to say that IMDB.com was not factual at all based on what I have seen, having viewed additional chapters in the series. I cannot say why IMDB is inaccurate at this point, but I blame that on the fact that this is a new playing field for IMDB. (Of course I wrote this after watching Chapter 2. It even sounds like a politician’s statement. Rest assured that if you enjoyed Kate Mara in Chapter 1, you will get more soon)