Beginning at midnight February 1, all 13 episodes of House of Cards, the political-drama from executive producers David Fincher and Kevin Spacey, will be available to stream on Netflix. The outlet is pushing hard into original content creation with a fourth season of Arrested Development arriving in May, just after Eli Roth’s horror-series Hemlock Grove in April.
Netflix released Lillyhammer last year in the same manner, but the high-profile nature of the talent attached to House of Cards marks a significant moment in the grand online content experiment. Indeed, these next few months may be the beginning of a new phase in the ever-evolving way that we perceive, consume and produce “television.” (We’ll have to come up with a new way to say “serialized long-form scripted-programming.”)
House of Cards follows ruthless Congressman Francis Underwood (Spacey) and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) who will stop at nothing to conquer everything. Kate Mara (American Horror Story) and Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris) costar in the first original series from Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network), Beau Willimon (The Ides of March) and Eric Roth (Forest Gump, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), with Fincher directing the first two episodes.
An adaptation of Michael Dobbs' novel, which was already a British mini-series, about politics and blackmail, the series takes an at-once artful and scathing look at the unsavory underbelly of Washington, capitalism, politics, and perhaps most-fascinatingly, a non-profit/charitable organization.
In a recent interview with GQ, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos threw down the metaphorical gauntlet to both cable and network television when he said that the outlet’s goal was, "to become HBO faster than HBO can become us."
I’ve seen the first two episodes in the adapted series, and can report that House of Cards goes a long way to achieving that goal aesthetically speaking. How audiences ultimately respond to the material, though, is part of what makes the show’s release so fascinating to watch unfold.
I spoke with writer/showrrunner Beau Willimon earlier today in fact, and he said that one of the things that made this project so attractive was that the creative team was liberated from the need to “play the ratings game.” They were instead able to look at the series as if it were a 13-hour film they were producing, one which they had a remarkable amount of creative freedom on. “It’s good to shake up the paradigm every once in awhile," he said. "Because when you start having 'tried and true' measures of success and you start quantifying art in that way you start to get into a mode of stagnation."
[Stay tuned for more from that interview next week.]
The original BBC series was very much a reflection of and response to Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister and a pervading feeling of cynicism that was present in Brittan at the time. This version of the tale is less interested in making direct correlations to specific political figures (though parallels can be found if one is looking for them). The show takes a more archetypal approach to the story’s exploration of the many faces of power, ambition and greed.
There is an inherently Shakespearean feel to the material, as the British adaptation of Dobb’s novel drew on the Bard’s Royal/political dramas. In fact, Spacey toured the world as Richard the III in the seven months prior to shooting the series and Willimon, Fincher and the actor spoke quite openly about that role leading directly into his portrayal of ruthless majority whip Francis Underwood. As in the BBC version, Spacey will often break the fourth wall and speak directly to camera, as if he is delivering a soliloquy.
It’s a device that may take viewers a moment or two to get accustomed to, but it lends itself beautifully to the tone of the show. It invites the viewer to go on this journey with a man who is unquestionably morally compromised, but ultimately able to move through the sludge of political gridlock and get things done. The complex nature of our experience of this character, and the humor that Spacey brings to it, is what engages us in this series as something delicious and fun to watch, rather than a depressing indictment of the American powers that be.
Spacey’s Francis Underwood ultimately feels universal. We can imagine him thriving in Westeros as easily as Washington. There is a distinctly Lady MacBeth quality to his wife, Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood. For her part, Wright gives as nuanced and compelling a performance in just these first two episodes as I have ever seen from her (this from a great fan of her work).
There is a contemporary feel to the material, as there always is with a Fincher offering. The show brings a particularly modern element to the show with Mara’s character, a young, highly ambitious journalist who represents the failure of the fourth estate (the media).
The bottom line: This series is well worth watching, and will likely reveal a great deal about how television is done in the years to come.
Source : ign[dot]com