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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

House of Cards Is the Anti-West Wing

Posted by on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 8:08 AM

It shouldn't be much of a surprise to regular readers of Slog, really, that I'm enjoying the hell out of Netflix's House of Cards. It's a political show about the ugly business of Washington DC, starring (and, in a weird, Shakespearean way, hosted by) a duplicitous snake, a politician's politician. What's more, the first two episodes are directed by David Fincher, and the rest of the series takes its cool design sense from Fincher's toolbox. So you have an unsentimental story about politics at its absolute worst, with a great visual sense, strong female characters, and a very interesting power dynamic between the protagonist and his wife. I couldn't look away if I tried.

I don't think I'd be able to critique House of Cards because I'm such a fan of it. Sure, the politics is a little dumbed down—that's fiction at work—and the dialogue can be a little on-the-nose. But the reporters and politicians in House of Cards are all fascinating characters, and the series, whose first season has just been released in one huge lump, is such a great exercise in plot. I haven't seen the British TV series or read the novels that House of Cards is adapted from, but I can still tell that this is a brilliant adaptation; it feels wholly American. I can't imagine what the British version is like, because it's so inextricably tied to the American political system.

My favorite thing about House of Cards is that it feels like the anti-West Wing. Don't get me wrong—I loved the West Wing* for its optimism and love of wonky policy chatter. But Kevin Spacey's Francis Underwood feels like the flip side of President Jed Bartlet, and it the reality of Washington D.C. falls almost exactly between the smarmy Machiavellian plots of House of Cards and the shining hope of the West Wing. In Wing, laws are passed because they're for the greater good. In Cards, they're passed to advance a personal agenda. There's a little bit of truth to both, and if you blend the two shows together, the lights and darks combine to form what could be considered a realistic portrait.

* Well, to be clear: I love the first three seasons and the final season of the West Wing. Everything else is barely watchable television.

 

Comments (21) RSS

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AmyC 1
20 Hours in America is my favorite episode of telivision ever, just for Toby and Josh's little freakout on the bridge over the time zone foul up. It's not even THAT funny, but it just happens to hit my funnybone in exactly the right way.
Posted by AmyC on February 5, 2013 at 8:18 AM · Report this
Lurleen 2
The British original is excellent. Ian Richardson was brilliant. Glad to hear that the American remake may be doing it justice.
Posted by Lurleen on February 5, 2013 at 8:33 AM · Report this
3
YOU MUST SEE the British series from the 90s.

'House of Cards,' and its even better sequel 'To Play the King' are utterly gripping political thrillers, and the sadistic pleasure of watching Ian Richardson get away with everything will tempt you to see your own life through Machiavellian glasses.

I had no idea this new series was based on that. Now I have to watch it.
Posted by hotairinky on February 5, 2013 at 8:35 AM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 4
I'm enjoying it so far! Only on episode 4 though... And I recently started watching Fringe as well, and when I do that (watch two series at a time) sometimes things get a bit confused. Oh well. Can't wait for when Underwood finds out what "the Pattern" is! and does he really have special abilities??
Posted by ArtBasketSara on February 5, 2013 at 8:43 AM · Report this
Pick1 5
Things I learned from West Wing:

-Aaron Sorkin really hates our current debate format.
Posted by Pick1 on February 5, 2013 at 8:45 AM · Report this
6
I haven't seen the original and probably won't be able to (Oh NZBMatrix how we miss ye), but this Netfix version is great. I spent most of yesterday watching it, will start streaming episode 8 in a few minutes. I love that Reed Hastings and company released the entire season in one fell swoop.
Posted by PaulBarwick on February 5, 2013 at 8:58 AM · Report this
7
While I think the political problems are a bit contrived ("you have this girl's blood on your hands!") it's been pretty great. I do, however, keep feeling like Malcolm Tucker should show up and bring a little cussy levity to some of the arguments.
Posted by thename on February 5, 2013 at 8:59 AM · Report this
8
This is a great series - I deepthroated them all between Friday and Saturday. I like it even better for its flaws. Good lord, Robin Wright is so magnificent. The whole greenwashing angle is a delight.
Posted by gloomy gus on February 5, 2013 at 9:03 AM · Report this
stinkbug 9
Utopia is keeping me satisfied at the moment.
That and Bomb Girls.
Posted by stinkbug on February 5, 2013 at 9:54 AM · Report this
10
4th Season was very good, 5th was eh, and the 6th was decent.
Posted by Seattle14 on February 5, 2013 at 10:00 AM · Report this
Sir Vic 11
@1 That really is the best scene in the whole series. It's the natural tension in the show that makes it so sublimely funny.
"We're seeing a hairdo from Florida in pass coverage."
Posted by Sir Vic on February 5, 2013 at 10:01 AM · Report this
scary tyler moore 12
you might think that, paul. i couldn't possibly comment.
Posted by scary tyler moore http://pushymcshove.blogspot.com/ on February 5, 2013 at 10:21 AM · Report this
watchout5 13
I loved the shit out of this series, I'm going to watch it again this weekend and I plan on watching the British version when I find out it's name. I love the small things, watched like a giant movie everything is in the shots for a reason, the use of colors, the use of language. Fucking film nerd orgasms for 12 hours. Seriously, even if you hate politics or anything about politics this is really amazing work on a technical level. I'm amazed and ready for more.
Posted by watchout5 http://www.overclockeddrama.com on February 5, 2013 at 10:37 AM · Report this
14
The British version is better, if not by much. And seasons 1-4 of West Wing are the good ones, not 1-3.
Posted by unpaid reader on February 5, 2013 at 10:46 AM · Report this
15
Kevin Spacey has been turning in extraordinary performances since he first appeared in that quality old show, The Wise Guy, many years back.
Posted by sgt_doom on February 5, 2013 at 11:18 AM · Report this
16
@13, the British version is also called House of Cards for the first season. The second and third seasons have different names but they shouldn't be too hard to find. All three are on Netflix.
Posted by c'mon girlfriend on February 5, 2013 at 12:13 PM · Report this
17
What @3 said. I haven't seen the new version but the British series are damn near perfect.
Posted by Corydon on February 5, 2013 at 12:39 PM · Report this
18
I loved the Brit version!
Posted by The urge to destroy is creative. on February 5, 2013 at 2:21 PM · Report this
Claypatch 19
4 episodes in and I am lovin it. Its incredibly delicious in its complete head-first dive into the cynicism pool, barely coming up for air to breathe any morality into it. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are spot-on perfect as the ultimate power-hungry couple. Every time he talks into the camera I get the shivers of delight.
Posted by Claypatch on February 5, 2013 at 11:55 PM · Report this
Andy Niable 20
Just finished episode 4, where it seems to start to go off the rails and into tired old AdulteryLand...
Posted by Andy Niable on February 6, 2013 at 1:02 AM · Report this
Andy Niable 21
...and then completely trainwrecks in episode 6.
Posted by Andy Niable on February 6, 2013 at 2:31 AM · Report this

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