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Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ should have taken its time

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Wait, am I tricking you or are you tricking me?” Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in House of Cards.

The Details

House of Cards
Two stars
Season 1 streaming now on Netflix

On February 1, Netflix debuted its first original series, a highly touted political drama called House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and Kate Mara, and produced by filmmaker David Fincher (who also directed the first two episodes). As is often the case with serious, high-profile dramas on premium services like HBO or Showtime, a tremendous amount of hype accompanied Cards’ premiere, with lots of anticipation for the combination of big-ticket talent and pedigreed material (based on a British TV series from the 1990s, which was in turn based on a series of novels). The show got lots of advance press, including mostly positive reviews for the two episodes provided to critics, and inspired plenty of online chatter.

But afterward, there wasn’t endless online debate over the plot elements in the first episode and speculation on what might happen next. There weren’t heavily trafficked episodic recaps on sites like the AV Club and New York Magazine’s Vulture. At this point, less than a week after the show’s debut, the conversation about House of Cards is all but over. Because Netflix subscribers tend to watch series in marathon viewing sessions, the service decided to debut all 13 episodes of House of Cards’ first season at once, which means dedicated viewers could get through the entire season on the first day.

In attempting to emulate the viewing patterns for shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, Netflix has lost a big part of what helped build those shows’ popularity in the first place. The content of House of Cards, too, emulates the feel of a weighty cable drama without much of the effect. It’s another heavily serialized show centered around an amoral middle-aged white male protagonist, who’s ruthless in his drive to protect his own empire. The show’s version of Tony Soprano or Walter White is Frank Underwood (Spacey), a U.S. congressman from South Carolina who, as the show begins, has just been passed over for what he thought was a certain nomination for secretary of state.

Frank is such a master manipulator that, following that initial setback, virtually every scheme he sets in motion goes exactly according to plan, which doesn’t make him very interesting to watch. Spacey’s exaggerated Southern accent and tiresome folksy asides to the camera don’t help, either. The show projects an air of dark cynicism, but there’s no substance to the drama, only faux-edgy posturing. After six episodes, I couldn’t find any real reason to continue watching, apart from keeping pace with more dedicated viewers who had already beaten me to the finish.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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