wants to rule the world, and we humble mortals better get out of his way. The veteran actor joins an all-star cast in House of Cards, the atmospheric political thriller set to turn White House politics on its devious, manipulative head. Armed with the freedom of paid cable networks and the pedigree of Oscar nominees behind and before the camera, this show somehow manages to be as intellectual as it is hip. It’s an edgy, moody story with ambitions overshadowed only by the ones held by its ruthless protagonist.
House of Cards wastes no time in establishing its deceptively simple storyline: Francis “Frank” Underwood (Spacey) wants to dismantle and destroy the current presidential administration. This familiar plot of revenge is revitalized by Underwood himself, a charismatic, dangerously intelligent politician with a disarming Southern drawl. His near maniacal grip on vengeance is tempered by his wife’s serenely cool, but equally determined drive. Robin Wright gives Claire Underwood a blend of grace and understated ruthlessness rarely seen. It’s clear Frank and Claire were meant for each other, two star-crossed lovers who see one another’s sense of purpose reflected in the other. These two could have ruled a small continent back in the Middle Ages. Instead, they have their sights set on Capitol Hill.
Surrounding the Underwoods, is a cast of pawns. Frank handily picks up two lackeys on his quest for political domination: Zoe Barnes, a sexualized twist on the plucky girl reporter (played by Rooney Mara‘s sister, Kate Mara), and Pete Russo, a Congressman with an easily blackmail-able history of drug use and prostitution. Meanwhile, both Claire and Frank alternate interactions with Remy, a deep-pocketed lobbyist who trades funding for favors. What quickly becomes apparent is everyone has an agenda. In Frank’s world, you succeed by understanding these agendas – and then exploiting them to promote your own. Part of the fun of the show is watching how easy Frank makes this all look.
The first four episodes of House of Cards are exquisite, but they also feel like warm-up drills for an athlete before the actual game. Frank is setting things in motion and taking out minor players like regular people sweep out the trash. It almost feels…reflexive. Frank is merely reacting to betrayal: the intellectual equivalent of a hot-headed man’s resort to his fists. He leaves a wake of disgraced Congressmen in his path as well as decisively eliminating the Secretary of State and House Majority Leader by the end of episode four. If the show can deliver on the promise of these early episodes, then it’s set for a meteoric season arc. The potential of House of Cards is seemingly limitless, thanks to Frank’s incalculable drive and ambition. Would Frank be satisfied by merely take out the president or would he want to sit in the Oval Office himself? Is Frank the sort of man who would ever be satisfied with anything? For the sake of this show, hopefully not.
The Game Changer
The most shocking element of House of Cards has nothing to do with the story (or the language or the sexual content). The first season of the show premiered – in its entirety – on February 1, 2013 at midnight. As if that wasn’t revolutionizing enough, the episodes are only available on Netflix. While making shows for the internet isn’t a new concept, the scale, scope and talent have arguably never even come close to House of Cards. And with Netflix set to exclusively release fourteen episodes of Arrested Development this May, the media company is poised to become a major player in television production.
Hayley has other interests besides just nerdy TV shows. She also is a big fan of thinking. She ponders the great mysteries of life, like how more of her time can be devoted to watching those nerdy TV shows.
A few weeks ago, Elementary found itself on the list of shows we at TVDM couldn’t wait to see in the Fall 2012 season, as well as among those we’re sure will be cancelled. Unlike some of the other new shows, Elementary isn’t a sure bet for quick cancellation (*cough* Animal Practice *cough*) or a second season pick-up. It was guaranteed views by people who wanted to compare/contrast to other Sherlock Holmes adaptions (as of recently, Robert Downey Jr. and BBC’s Sherlock) and those that know CBS handles the crime procedural genre almost as well as The CW runs the popular teen drama game. So, low ratings may not be an immediate issue, but is the show any good?
Well, I don’t usually feel the need to check out shows that involve oddly-paired duos running around solving crimes, unless they’re Shawn and Gus (Psych), so I’d planned to let this show quietly slip under my radar like most of CBS’ programming. Then I remembered how much I loved Lucy Lui in Ally McBeal and Kill Bill,and I promised I’d at least check out the pilot. I can’t definitely say if I loved or hated the pilot episode, but here’s what stood out:
- Sherlock Holmes is played by Johnny Lee Miller (who I will always remember as the annoying Jordan Chase on Dexter). It’s unfair to compare him to any of the other actors who’ve played the Holmes role, so instead I’ll think of him as an incarnation of the Hugh Laurie’s House, which is to say he’s brilliant beyond measure, incredibly flawed and the dysfunctional protagonist network television needs. Holmes is a recovering alcoholic and Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Lui) is his ‘sober companion’, hired to make sure he doesn’t fall off the wagon. He’s a rich boy who loves what he does so much, that he works for free and she’s a former surgeon who clearly hates her new job. Together, they’re an interlocking puzzle that solve crimes while trying to figure each other out. Their dynamic wasn’t immediately annoying, so that goes in the plus column.
- Fans of Sherlock Holmes will appreciate Elementary‘s subtle nods to the legacy, such as him keeping bees on the roof of his home in the city or use of drugs, as well as noting that Watson is a former surgeon. I simply respect any adaptation that recognizes its roots, either in major or minor ways. It says that the writers are considerate of the fans and did the smallest bit of research. Something that tends to bode well if you’re interested in quality television, which I am from time to time. Another plus for this show.
- Although Holmes is pure genius, Watson isn’t intimated by him in the least. This is illustrated in their interaction when she notes that he doesn’t keep any mirrors in his home because he “knows a lost cause when he sees one.” Watson is Holmes’ balance and it’s good to see that they went with that tone in the pilot instead of feeling the need to make her character continually clash with Holmes in some alpha male pissing contest just to prove her strength as a woman. I’m sure the fact that Watson as a girl instead of a guy will play a part eventually, I just didn’t want it continuously emphasized throughout the first episode.
- There wasn’t a surprise twist-ending in the vein of the Law and Order franchise. Holmes solved the crime with 15 minutes left in the episode, so I was really scared it would get hokey and lame just to get a “gasp” out of the audience, but it didn’t. Instead, we watched (mostly) Watson get the proof they needed by making tiny connections and Holmes presenting it in a nice pretty package for the detectives. In that respect, it was the lack of twist that surprised me. I’m torn between respecting the show for not stealing a storytelling technique and annoyed that there wasn’t more “pow” in the episode.
I don’t think it will be the connect-the-dots format that will make this show a hit, unless they get a little more inventive with their crimes and how Holmes solves them. Instead, I believe the true potential lies in how amazingly screwed-up they can make Holmes and how he interacts with Watson. Elementary isn’t mind blowing, but it’s solid enough that I’d at least recommend checking out the pilot. Overall: 6/10 will probably watch next week.
Nicole is a TV junkie and TVDM helps her feed a lifelong addiction. She can be found here, providing biased commentary (sprinkled with a few Pop Up Video-esque insights) on her favorite shows, every week.
Meet the Press
Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) – The surly news anchor that just realized sitting on the fence isn’t as safe as he once thought. He has come under fire from the media and his network after a fiery tirade during a political debate at Northwestern University. After a brief sabbatical, Will comes back to work to find that the majority of his crew is being moved to another show. Most importantly his executive producer…
Don (Thomas Sadoski) - The “young hotshot executive producer”. He’s only been working with Will for a few months–and that seems to be more than enough time working for someone with Will’s harsh exterior–but he seems to have a firm grasp on his crew…even if it is only for the next two weeks.
Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) - The President of ACN. After Will’s salvo at Northwestern he was forced to do damage control by changing the staff. Although Will was upset that Charlie did all this behind his back–to some extent–they both have a mutual understanding that it was the best decision going forward. With the exception of Charlie hiring a former employee to replace Don…
Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer) - A former employee and executive producer with ACN, For the last two years she was on-site covering the war in the middle east. Mackenzie is eager to come back to ACN and make the necessary changes to make sure that Will becomes more vocal on his opinions on-air. The two share a romantic past but it seems to have crashed and burned–which only makes things that much better for us. She is the only person to directly challenge Will so far and I expect that to be a recurring trend as the season goes on.
Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) - Mackenzie’s second in command. He was with her during her time in the middle east. He’s young but he knows how to handle the pressure of his job. He clashed with Don after just a few minutes in the newsroom but that didn’t stop him from going up the ladder with his information. He seems to be just as diligent as Mackenzie when it comes to his profession, maybe not so much personally though. But I guess we’re going to have to wait to see what if anything materializes with himself and…
Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) - A former intern with the shortest stint as an assistant in the history. She is anxious about Will’s return to work and if her quality of work will be to his pleasing. She is also trying to maintain a relationship with Don even though he seems to not be taking it as serious as she is. After Mackenzie figures all this out,in less than 10 minutes, she promotes Maggie to Associate Producer and tells her how to handle Don and his lack of commitment. But being thrust into a position she has no business in Maggie is undoubtedly going to step on some toes–including her own.