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It shouldn't be much of a surprise to regular readers, 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.
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