Netflix begins its REAL push into original programming this weekend with House of Cards, the first in a wave of new releases designed to transform the DVD-delivery and streaming-video subscriber service from a treasure trove of old media into a treasure trove of old media with some sparkly new stuff. This new initiative isn't going to be an overnight success, but the first major launch (outside of Lilyhammer, which Netflix quietly and exclusively released in the U.S. last year) is kind of a big deal for the business's future. But is House of Cards worth forking over the $7.99 a month? I've seen the pilot episode and am here to help you make that decision by answering a few of your questions.
UPDATE: If you're looking for a more in-depth take, here's my full review of the pilot.
A remake of the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, Netflix's version is set in contemporary USA and follows Majority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey, on TV!) as he attempts to dismantle the new presidential regime that passed him over for Secretary of State. There will be shady deals with reporters, the blackmailing of Congressmen, and plenty of ass-kicking and ass-kissing. Kate Mara, Robin Wright, and Michael Kelly also star.
The first season will pop up on Netflix on February 1 at 12am Pacific / 3am Eastern (Thursday night/Friday morning). Under the Netflix model, all 13 epsiodes will be released at once, so you can finish the whole season in a day if you want. Netflix has already ordered a second season.
Playwright Beau Willimon gets into TV for the first time. He wrote the play Farragut North, which became the basis for George Clooney's The Ides of March. David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac), one of the best directors out there, also has a big hand in the project. Fincher directed the first two episodes. The show is produced by Media Rights Capital, the same group that tried to rent the weekend from The CW a few years back.
People who liked Season 5 of The Wire, but who didn't care for the drug dealers and cops. People who like the nitty-gritty intricacies of politics. People who watch C-SPAN and read Politico for fun. People who liked Starz's Boss.
If this is the future of television, sign me up: Netflix's model is a fascinating one, but who knows whether it'll work or not. On the production side, House of Cards doesn't look like a TV show thanks to Fincher's eye—this is staggering, movie-quality stuff here and there isn't a shot that doesn't pop. The writing and tone are also more akin to HBO and Showtime (or even British miniseries) than network TV's previous attempts at heady stuff; this wouldn't even get looked at by the major broadcasters. The show also paints Washington as a town full of adulterous, power-hungry, morally absent assholes, which is exactly how I imagine it.
One of the most jarring elements of the series is Underwood's breaking of the fourth wall as he speaks directly into the camera at the audience, much like Don Cheadle does in House of Lies. Personally I hate that, and I don't know if playfully talking to viewers matches the series' grave tone. If you don't like politics, you might feel lost. Some of the dialogue, especially in Spacey's monologues to the camera, probably looked better on paper than it sounds on the screen, as his bulldog barks come off as carefully thought-out stage-play speeches rather than spontaneous tirades. Though he's an interesting and intelligent character, the conniving Underwood isn't necessarily a likeable fellow. But the biggest problem with the series is it never really grabbed me (though I will admit politics isn't my thing). I'm probably just too dumb.
If you already have Netflix, then it wouldn't hurt to give this a shot. But be prepared to go all in, if you do, as House of Cards isn't the sit-back-and-relax type of television. This is a series for the patient, and the more time you invest in it, the more it will reward you as danger thickens. And if you have dreams of heading to D.C. and backstabbing everyone, you'll probably be into it. If politics aren't your thing, wait for Netflix to build up its library of originals before spending an extra eight bucks a month, then come back to this.
This is a single-malt scotch type of show.
The entirety of Season 1 of House of Cards premieres Friday, February 1 at 12am Pacific on Netflix (for subscribers only).