With this new blog, I’m going to try and cover a TV show weekly. That show may or may not be House of Cards, depending on whether I stick with it or not. The Netflix distribution model is also a factor; the Australian cable channel Showcase is airing one episode a week, and by the time they reach the end, the people who were always going to watch Season 2 will have finished it.
There are spoilers for both the UK and US versions of House of Cards below.
The original House of Cards miniseries is the best political thriller I’ve ever seen. When Urquhart lifted up Mattie and threw her off the roof of Parliament, it was funny because she yelled “Daddy” as she fell (when Mattie and Urquhart begin their affair at the encouragement of Urquhart’s wife, the two have a conversation about what she should call him, which resulted in “I want to call you daddy”). I was surprised then, at the end of the first season of the US House of Cards, when Zoe Barnes was still alive. This is an adaptation, after all. And then Frank lifted her up and threw her in front of a train, so all was well. Zoe, like Mattie, was killed for knowing too much. In Frank Underwood’s world however, other people are in on the secret, which makes this aspect slightly more interesting. I think Janine may currently be my favourite character, simply because she’s smart enough to know when to leave.
It’s impossible for me to watch this adaptation without comparing it to the original, which I liked significantly more. In four episodes, Francis Urquhart was Prime Minister of Britain, and Mattie was dead. After fourteen episodes, Frank Underwood is the Vice President and Zoe Barnes is dead, but other people have the information that could bring him down. Part of the reason it’s taken so long for Underwood to get this far is because of the differences between a Westminster Parliamentary system and the United States’ constitutional republic. In the Westminster system, a Member of Parliament can challenge for the leadership at any time, even if they are the party that has formed a government, which is how both Paul Keating and Julia Gillard came to hold the office of Prime Minister in Australia. Therefore it didn’t take long for Urquhart to become Prime Minister. In the US system, the separation of powers complicates things, which is where the line of succession is important. Thus, Underwood needed to become either VP or Speaker in order to have a viable chance at the Presidency. This takes a lot longer than a leadership challenge. I expect that Urquhart will be the President before the end of the second season. Some people probably know whether this is the case already, thanks to the Netflix distribution model.
I nearly wrote a post on my old blog about why I preferred the original after I’d finished watching the first season, but it’s one of the many posts that remain half finished. I think the main difference between the two shows is the tone. The UK miniseries is classified as a political thriller, but I also consider it to be a satire of sorts. For that reason, I also prefer Ian Richardson’s performance to Kevin Spacey’s. He had a twinkle in his eye that wouldn’t be out of place on ABC’s Media Watch, and the asides to the audience played better. The US version feels like it’s trying way too hard to be an ‘edgy’ cable drama. I’ve just finished watching Season 1 of The Wire for the first time, and House of Cards is not The Wire. Nowhere near it. The first season it felt like they were throwing out curse words because they could, not because they were necessary.
Both shows are about Power with a capital P, and the lengths people are willing to go to obtain it. The miniseries at least had a smidgen of political ideology; the book upon which it is based was written by a conservative politician, and Francis Urquhart was Maggie Thatcher’s number one supporter. Ideology doesn’t really matter in the US version and I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing, but it probably plays better for international audiences – I don’t really know how exactly a Southern Democrat differs from a Democrat from New England or the Pacific Northwest. I know the broad differences between Democrats and Republicans, but that’s it.
I’ve just spent a lot of time not really talking about Chapter 14 of House of Cards, because the differences between the two series are more interesting to me, and I don’t really like it that much. I’ll keep watching for now, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve watched all of The Newsroom except the second season finale because at that point I just didn’t care anymore. Let’s see how far I can get into this show before I give up. Because House of Cards picked up where it left off in Season 1, most of the storylines are the same:
- Journalists trying to figure out how Peter Russo, the best part of Season 1 died;
- The prostitute (I can’t remember her name) was forced out of her apartment and maybe killed? I wasn’t paying 100% attention to this, it’s not like it’s The Wire;
- Frank killed Zoe, which was only unexpected because I thought it would have happened in the first season finale. The only thing that did happen in that finale is that Frank became the VP nominee. Zoe’s death would have made for a much more interesting season finale. The premiere could have opened with Janine packing her bags (that actress is so good, what else is she in? I know her name is Constance Zimmer, I’ll do research later);
- Claire is in some sort of battle with Sandrine Holt that is related to pregnancy medication and health insurance, and told the wife of whoever Sandrine slept with that she was pregnant with his child;
- Claire doesn’t want to have a baby anymore presumably because of the medical complications of having a child in your later childbearing years – maybe she’ll try and adopt Sandrine’s? (I will learn that character’s name, I promise – I have the Wikipedia page open, I’ve learned that her name is Gillian Cole, but I may not remember that).
New development: Frank is grooming a protégé. I don’t know where this is going, and it could be interesting. Given that Frank taught Linda everything she knows, or something along those lines, it could come back to bite him in the ass, which is the most interesting development this storyline could take. Except then he would just kill her and it would be boring again.
So I’ll keep watching for now. I may give up midseason, or after the next episode. Ryan McGee, who covered the first season for The A.V. Club, has already declared that he’s done:
The good news is that one ep was everything I didn’t like about the show, and cured me of ever needing to watch again. #HouseOfCards
— Ryan McGee (@TVMcGee) February 15, 2014
Who knows, maybe it’ll be so good that I’ll take back everything I wrote today. (Probably not.)