House of Cards is a Netflix remake of a British TV Mini-series of the same title that was originally based around a book by Michael Dobbs. In most cases a remake of a much-loved adaption, particularly an American remake of a British series (See The Tomorrow People) will be doomed to failure before it has even started. And when you consider that House of Cards is not even aired on TV, but as a Netflix exclusive, one might be tricked into believing that this could be a flop. But, the thirteen hour-long episodes of House of Cards has turned out to be an addictive hit that is compulsory viewing for all fans of political drama and just good television.
House of Cards is not a show where you can expect to sympathize with the main characters. Kevin Spacey plays Francis “Frank” Underwood, a ruthless, cunning manipulator who we are introduced to as he’s putting a neighbour’s dog down who was just hit in a road accident, and therefore right from the start you know that he’s going to be one of those anti-heroes that TV seems to be so fond of nowadays, with the likes of Walter White leading the floodgates. Frank himself is a US Congressman from South Carolina – and the Majority Whip. Having ensured the election of President Garrett Walker (Michel Gill), Underwood expects to be rewarded with a position of Secretary of State. However, despite what Walker has promised, Frank is rejected the role by Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) in favour of Senator Michael Kern (Kevin Kilner). And thus Frank starts his revenge – determined to start a war against the President due to his betrayal.
Meanwhile, young and ambitious Washington Herald reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) is unhappy with her current position within the Herald and sees a chance to aspire to greater things when she meets with Frank, and Claire (Robin Wright), Frank’s wife – has to meanwhile deal with the problems presented by her job as a CEO of the Clear Water Initiative, a non-profit organization created to further the cause of environmental awareness. Despite that the cast list may be numerous, with two other key players being pawns of Frank’s war against the Walker, booze addict US Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) and White House Chief of Staff Doug Stamper (Michel Kelly), the main characters are Zoe, Frank and Claire. They’re the key pieces at the heart of the puzzle that is House of Cards and all benefit from some incredible acting talents provided by Mara, Spacey and Wright.
Out of the three Kevin Spacey really delivers a the most memorable performance as Frank Underwood, breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience in a move that whilst being a risky choice actually works – and really is the show-stealer here. It’s hard to imagine a Underwood played by anybody other than Spacey because he just nails the role – and he’s one of the reasons while you’ll keep watching the show.
Robin Wright delivers a performance that’s as almost-equally good as Spacey. Both Claire and Frank are at the heart of House of Cards and their relationship really changes over the course of the series – you get the sense that they were married for political reasons rather than just love for one another, with their marriage helping advance their careers. Wright does have a powerful role to play and is a fully developed character with several strong scenes, and holds her own with Spacey brilliantly, and you can easily see why House of Cards turned out to be this good with its great cast. The third main figure here is Kate Mara – whose role as Zoe Barnes does start out as a little cliched, but improves a lot as the character as the plot goes on. By the end her character has grown massively – and all three of them are very changed people by the end of the series that they are at the beginning.
There are no unwatchable episodes in House of Cards‘ first season and they could all individually easily be ranked four/five stars. Rather than given individual episode names they’re labelled as “Chapters” and allow for a richly entertaining look into White House Politics. Even if you’re not interested in politics then House of Cards has a compelling way of drawing you in – and that is in no small part due to its awesome cast that keep the series as good as it gets.
This is one of the best new TV shows to come out of 2013, along with Orphan Black, Almost Human, Sleepy Hollow and Peaky Blinders – and really deserves your attention. It’s a show that’s certainly worthy of all the praise it’s been receiving and its only real weakness is the lack of originality in Zoe’s storyline at the beginning, with episodes that are all very watchable and very awesome. David Fincher shows just how good a director he is with this amazing opening season and exploration of the fouler and more corrupt side of Government Politics that comes highly recommended.