Being a fan of all things good in political thrillers I had to get across to Netflix to watch their new original series ‘House of Cards‘. It’s one of a handful of Netflix funded TV productions that has been announced for release in 2013, with the rather unique proposition that the entire season is made available all at the same on the streaming service.
Thank god that it is, because It’s good. It’s really good. In a matter of two days I devoured all thirteen episodes of the season and completely turned my back on the many other shows I have on the go at the moment. It was addictive.
For those not in the know; the show tells the story of House Minority Whip, Congressman Francis Underwood as he seeks to increase his own political power and influence for personal gain. Caught up in his web of intrigue are The President, fellow Congressmen, his Wife, his staff and a young & naive journalist who are all pieces in his giant, unscrupulous game of chess.
What made it so good? In short; Kevin Spacey. His performance is outstanding as the diabolically brilliant Francis Underwood. He just blew me away. Even in the odd points of the show when it ebbed a little Spacey brought it to life immeasurably with his on screen presence. Spacey has always made a great villain, but Francis Underwood is somewhere close to the top in Spacey villainy. All this time working the Theatre, Shakespeare especially, has certainly taken this guy to new heights of evil characters.
Never more have I watched a show where I have wanted the main character (pure antagonist) to succeed and fail at the same time. He’s a nasty, self-serving piece of work but his Machiavellian manoeuvrings are so deft you can’t help but feel a drive to watch as he expertly puts his plans into action with some part of you eager to see if it’ll succeed.
The show uses a simply device to give us insight into the megalomaniac mind of Francis Underwood; they break the fourth wall and have the character speak directly to te audience. This is a risky method, only really pulled off successfully due to Spacey’s extraordinary performance. At times it comes over a bit cheesy, but excusable because Spacey delivers them so well.
Spacey isn’t the only one pulling out an A-grade performance. This one is a team effort. There’s some top notch work going on here. I was especially impressed with Corey Stoll and Kate Mara, who both hold their own against the heavyweight performance from Spacey. Stoll particularly was a revelation – a complete unknown to me who pulls off a powerhouse performance in the show. He did so well I’ve started digging around in his IMDB. back catalogue. His character arc is fascinating, putting a real face to the people Underwood treats as puppets, and showing us a true victim of Underwood’s cold hearted pursuit of power.
I also really loved that the whole season was available all at once – it really suited the box set junkie in me. With no frustrating waits or ad breaks to interrupt the flow I was able to immerse myself entirely in the sleazy atmosphere and political intrigue – no real life for a week at a time to burst the bubble and take me out of the show.
It’s not without a few minor criticisms though. I definitely found the pacing a bit slow and unsatisfying on the odd occasion. A great example was in one episode in particular; Chapter 8, which had a plot strand that seemed utterly random and interrupted the whole flow of the show for me. While I understand it was designed to bring the deeper layers of Francis Underwood to the forefront all it did was slow things down and was an annoying distraction to the main threads I wanted to see unfold.
I also found the pacing slowed down in scenes with Francis’ wife; Claire Underwood. She’s a great character, as selfish and diabolical as her husband and as driven for power as he is, played brilliantly by Robin Wright. However, all to often did some of her plot strands play out at a painfully slow pace and lacked anything dramatic or interesting about them. Her story, at times, distracted from parts of the show that were really picking up some pace and sucking me in. Thank god it was all so well performed or I may have lost interest in the character.
Overall though an excellent thirteen episodes of telly. I found them enjoyable to watch despite the small gripes with pacing. I don’t know if they will be televised elsewhere, but if you have a Netflix subscription I would highly recommend it.