WELL, THAT HAPPENED: House of Cards our Citizen Kane

By on March 3, 2015
We can’t take our eyes off of the shrewd Frank Underwood. (Courtesy photo)

We can’t take our eyes off of the shrewd Frank Underwood. (Courtesy photo)

Right now, there is no better show on television (or streaming online) than Netflix’s political masterpiece, House of Cards. Having just finished the show’s third season, I am completely beside myself at how confident and fantastic the show has become. I will be mentioning a few minor spoilers, but won’t reveal anything that hasn’t been seen in teaser trailers or sponsored Facebook ads.

At the Golden Globes earlier this year, Kevin Spacey won Best Actor in a TV Drama Series for his portrayal of the insatiable, power-hungry politician from South Carolina, Frank Underwood. Aided by his wife Claire (Golden Globe winner Robin Wright), Frank maneuvers the back alleys of Congress and the White House, and manages to attain the most powerful position in the free world. Throughout the three fast-paced seasons currently available, he solidifies himself as the most conniving, entertaining and spine-chilling antihero in the history of television or film.

Selling this show to friends has been a hassle for me, as many of them don’t have any interest in watching a political drama, even if it’s an award-winning show. Unlike The West Wing, which managed to embody a hopeful, good-hearted side to the U.S. government, House of Cards manages to conk our political system on the back of the head, and kick it while it’s down. It’s an incredibly pessimistic portrayal, one full of back channeling, scheming, lobbying and even murder. Told expertly through well-rounded characters and a flawless script, House of Cards is anything but some C-SPAN snoozefest.

At one point in the recent season, Frank Underwood turns to the camera and says, “I’m not declaring war on Congress. I’m declaring war on atrophy. But these days, who can tell the difference?”

It’s moments like this that showcase how aware the showrunners are of the current political climate. The first season honored the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strikes as a major story thread. Last year’s second season tackled China trade agreements and Super PAC donation schemes. This year, Frank Underwood must deal with a very Vladimir Putin-esque Russian president, unsolvable conflicts in the Middle East and creating jobs in a broken economy on American soil.

The show expertly takes on these very polarizing topics and manages to nail each one of them to the ground. Even when you, as a viewer, feel that things are getting too out of hand, too outrageous and unbelievable, House of Cards achieves stability. However, the show demands a lot of attention from its viewers. I’ve found myself rewinding scenes here and there just to make sure I understood exactly what went down. Sometimes the terminology can be a little daunting to those (like me) who don’t read The Economist regularly, but overall it’s the unpredictable drama that sucks you in.

Yet, throughout the most recent season, I couldn’t help but wonder if the show was beginning to portray its own agenda. In one scene Frank Underwood hires a bestselling author to write a biography about him, with the intention of garnering support for a job-creation bill. The author muses that the book would be a form of propaganda, and immediately I wondered if at some point, some mysterious Washington staffer met with the House of Cards team to inject his or her own ulterior motives into the drama.

While I’m sure that’s not the case, it’s hard to not wonder if all of the show’s underhanded deals and betrayals are playing out at this very moment in the Capitol. Bypassing all the media spin and political allegiances, it’s a mesmerizing saga of characters crooked and corrupt, ignoring their own ethics in order to get their way. If you’ve avoided watching it up to now, you’re missing out on the Citizen Kane of television.

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