TV REVIEW: “House of Cards” Season 1 – Intriguing but Familiar

Written by Jesse Gelinas February 09, 2013

Kevin Spacey is "House of Cards"

“Welcome to Washington”

It’s no secret that Hollywood is running out of ideas. “House of Cards”, the latest American remake of a successful British series is the first ‘original’ series to be carried and aired exclusively through Netflix. This does lead to some interesting discussion on the direction of TV’s future. The show itself may seem an odd choice for Netflix’s first venture into original content, but I digress. The series has its merits, but also quite a few drawbacks.

Kevin Spacey stars as Congressman Francis Underwood, the Majority Whip for the Democratic Party. When the series begins, we find him discovering that he has been brushed aside for Secretary of State. This is something he sees as a great injustice from his new President. Underwood then puts into motion a plan so complex and devious to strike back at those who’ve wronged him. Robin Wright also stars as his wife, a charity organizer and fellow schemer. Others include Kate Mara as an ambitious reporter, and Corey Stoll as a Pennsylvania congressman with a drug problem.

“Powerful people don’t have the luxury of foreplay.”

The cast is top notch, and Spacey is obviously in his element as the conniving, manipulating Underwood. Robin Wright is always a pleasure to watch, and Kate Mara manages to hold her own against the more seasoned heavyweights. Every cast member seems to be perfectly suited to their roles and they all come across like they’ve been playing the Washington game for years. They’re all aided by some great direction (including David Fincher) and solid writing throughout the season.

Kate Mara in "House of Cards"

The show’s portrayal of the inner workings of Washington are intriguing and entertaining as all hell to watch. Much of it is embellished to be sure; but all these stories have to come from some kernel of truth, right? The scheming is nonstop, everyone is fucking each other, and a stab in the back is more common than a handshake it seems. It does make for some intricate storytelling though, watching the need for one vote turn into a circle of favors and secrets that risks ten.

“Centuries from now when people watch this footage, who will they see smiling just at the edge of the frame?”

Where “House of Cards” suffers is in the familiarity of the plot. There is nothing new to be seen here. We have all the clichés of a political thriller. The puppeteer congressman, the cheating wife, the sexually charged reporter climbing the ladder, the loyal and honourable staffer, and even the hooker with a heart-of-gold. To be fair, the actors and the dialogue make up for the familiar territory, but it is a little hard to ignore. The story also takes a strangely anti-climactic turn in the last few episodes, and it becomes hard to see where this series will go next year. Perhaps the original mini-series format will prove superior.

Robin Wright in "House of Cards"

Overall, “House of Cards” is a political thriller with authentic intrigue, and some great performances. These allow you to overlook the somewhat predictable plot lines, but don’t forgive it entirely. The show will need a strong second season to give it any true credibility, much in the way “The Newsroom” will need to prove itself. Spacey has likely cemented himself a slew of awards and Netflix certainly has something of value on its hands. From here, it’s up to the schemers to decide where this does.

My Rating: 8/10

Netflix poster for "House of Cards"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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