Frank Underwood is really trucking all over Washington, DC. House of Cards is an exciting new drama from Netflix, David Fincher, and Beau Willimon (writer of the play upon wich the acclaimed Ides of March was based), which follows the exploits of a ridiculously corrupt yet undeniably likable congressman. Kevin Spacey basically just hams it up as the Georgia-born House Majority Whip, essentially the "fixer" in a badly-broken Congress who gets passed over for Secretary of State early on in the first episode. This happens just after the newly-elected Garrett Walker gets inaugurated, and very contrary to what he promised Frank Underwood. So we quickly get down to business as a pissed-off Underwood sets about doing his thing and getting ready to bust out some serious Shakespearean-style revenge. The first few episodes are largely dedicated to table-setting, which makes sense. Willimon's series aims to tell a story that took up four episodes' worth of source material (counting the original BBC miniseries as the source material here, and not the novel) over the course of twenty-six hours. This means we get a good amount of time to meet everybody and get to know how things work in this show's world. And hot damn, what a deeply, deeply cynical world it is. The first four episodes feature Frank manipulating the everloving bejesus out of an historical education bill, before seriously shaking down the House Majority Leader (this is where we get that awesome "We'll cleave you from the herd, and leave you to die in the wilderness" scene from the trailer).
Frank's corruption is as deeply-rooted as it is thorough, and it makes the show insanely interesting...but not quite compelling. In fact, what's notable about this show is how little actually stands in its protagonist's way at this point. Frank might very well be an anti-hero to end all anti-heroes, but there's really not a lot that he has to deal with in this show's early goings. Any problems he has are quickly solved, and Frank continues to tromp all over the balls of every single legislator in the Capitol.
We do get to meet his wife Claire, who is played with just the right amount of bloodthirsty coldness by a stellar Robin Wright, and their relationship is a fascinating one. Power transcends most traditional values for these two, and the relative unconventionality of their life together is smartly endearing.
So far, though, the first four episodes of House of Cards rest heavily on the laurels of the pedigree with which the show associates itself. Fincher's direction is, as always, beautiful, and Spacey's performance is, as always, awesome. The setting in motion of Frank's revenge story has me curious and interested, but the drama that surrounds it is markedly tepid. I'm definitely curious to see what he's up to...but we'll see how long that can keep being a reason to watch.
Note: I'm going to review these series in four parts, each part covering four episodes of the show, with the final part covering the finale and the first season as a whole. Part one covers Chapter One through Chapter Four.
Oh, and also...
• This show sure does love its heavy-handed metaphors. As of episode four, I've counted the injured dog, the shouting bum, the graveyard lady, and Sick Gillian.
• I really like Frank & Claire's relationship. They push each other. True partners.
• I really didn't get to Zoe's storyline, but that's because all it amounts to is her being an ambitious reporter who wants to sex Frank up for insider information, and whom Frank wants to use for relatively similar purposes. There's really nothing more to it than that.