House of Cards pioneers new TV format
Politics, intrigue, deception and revenge are just a few of the elements that make House of Cards a must watch show this spring, but you won’t find this fantastic show anywhere on cable. House of Cards is a Netflix exclusive series, meaning you can’t DVR it, but Netflix users can watch the first season anytime and anywhere they want.
Although Netflix’s online video competitor, Hulu, has made several attempts at exclusive series, their efforts have largely fallen flat despite their aggressive efforts at self-promotion during the requisite ad breaks we all have to endure while watching free episodes of our favorite shows. House of Cards, however, may represent a revolution in the production of high quality, web exclusive series.
Boasting an all-star cast that includes Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, whom fans will recognize from American Beauty and The Princess Bride respectively, this series feels on par with big budget dramas such as Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and Spartacus. A complex story arch will keep viewers enthralled throughout the season — an especially dangerous trait on Netflix, as there is nothing to prevent you from watching one episode right after another, and, if you’re like me, that means watching the whole first season in a week.
There is one aspect of House of Cards, however, that may take first time viewers an episode or two to get used to. The directors chose to have the lead character, House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Spacey), regularly break the fourth wall and speak directly to the cameras. There are not many shows or movies that choose to employ this technique because, when done poorly, it can ruin the suspension of disbelief necessary to really become engrossed in the drama of the story. In this context it works perfectly, however, giving each viewer a feeling akin to being a Washington insider, privy to all of the Congressman’s dirty secrets and underhanded schemes. In this story, where political maneuvering is the name of the game, feeling like the trusted right hand of a power-player like Underwood is as good as it gets.
As season one progresses, viewers are introduced to Underwood, a good ol’ boy congressman from South Carolina, and his activist wife, Claire, who heads an influential environmental non-profit. After Frank is passed over for a nomination for Secretary of State, he embarks on a journey of sly, ruthless retribution where everyone else is merely a pawn to be used and discarded in pursuit of his political goals.
Supporting characters include Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), a young and very ambitious journalist, Rep. Peter Russo (Corey Stoll), a young congressman with a shady past he hasn’t entirely escaped, and Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), Underwood’s aggressively loyal chief of staff.
Not to throw out any spoilers, but the first season of House of Cards delivers the drama with multiple illicit affairs, one blackmailing scheme and the unexpected death of a primary character. So to those of you who already have a Netflix account, go put House of Cards in your Instant Queue right away! To everyone else, it’s time to hop on the Netflix bandwagon because if House of Cards is any indication, Netflix is about to become a serious competitor in the production of smart, sexy and exclusive new programs.