When I first heard that Netflix was planning on releasing several original television series to their increasingly popular platform, I was skeptical. It seemed gimmicky. They couldn't possibly produce anything worth watching not to mention even remotely competing with the big boys of television: AMC (The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Mad Men), ABC (Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and FXX (Sons of Anarchy, Arrested Development) to name a few. What did they know about producing a high-quality television series? Their name just isn't synonymous with that. But after burning through the first 13 episodes of House of Cards in about four days, I stand corrected.
House of Cards centers on the political (and personal) life of Congressman Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey in one of the best performances of his career) as he navigates the shark-infested waters of the American political system. Underwood is ambitious, experienced, and ruthless; willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants (no, really...WHATEVER it takes). As equally ruthless as Frank is his wife Claire (Robin Wright) who provides the 2 in the 1-2 punch that is the Underwoods. As a testimonial to all of those politicians who rise to power with the help of their significant other, Claire and Frank are indeed a formidable team. But their personal relationship comes off as cold and calculating; more a business partnership than a loving marriage - and that suits them both just fine. Their lust for power is what brings them together and their willingness to sacrifice their morality to get what they want is downright alarming at times. Both Spacey and Wright received Golden Globe nominations for their performances and Wright (rightly) took home the award.
House of Cards was developed by David Fincher and his personality is all over the show. His direction in the first two episodes sets the tone for the series. He creates a world that is a perfect combination of dark seediness and upper class privilege. These men and women are driven by their need to keep (and increase) their sphere of influence and the power they wield over others. Frank's experience and intelligence give him the ability to manipulate others into doing what he wants with ease. Hell, most of the time his adversaries think they are making the decision themselves, but we know better. In a world where the strong survive and the weak are devoured, even the President of the United States comes across as nothing more than Frank's puppet - showing us that true power doesn't always come from a job title.
One advantage that House of Cards has on other network and basic cable hour-long dramas is that they can get away with showing nudity, bad language, and general debauchery. This might not seem like that big a deal, but the freedom really allows the writers/filmmakers to deliver powerful episodes that don't pull any punches. Just over the course of season one, we encounter issues like alcoholism, suicide, infidelity, and murder. Netflix's leeway to show these issues - warts and all - makes it that much more effective. It feels like this is how it really is in Washington and that makes House of Cards all the more exhilarating (and frightening).
Another thing that makes House of Cards so addictive is that there is no waiting for the next episode. Netflix's unique platform allows them to release each new season of episodes all at one time - so fans don't have to wait week-to-week to see what happens next. You can literally binge on your favorite shows (this is also true of the other Netflix original series - Orange is the New Black and Hemlock Groves). And for a meager $7.99 per month, this is an amazing deal - not to mention that you get access to their library of thousands of feature length films and television shows in the Netflix canon.
Season 1 of House of Cards is currently available on Netflix and season 2 will be released on Valentine's Day (February 14) of this year. As with the first season, all season 2 episodes will be available on the release day. Netflix has shown that they are committed to producing high-quality television shows that can compete (and eclipse) some of the major players in television. House of Cards is the perfect flagship series to usher in a new era of television programming. Don't miss it!