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Alternative Culture Magazine

House of Cards

TV Series Review

Long disdaining TV as an opiate of the masses, I can give credence now to the claim that the medium is experiencing a “golden age.” House of Cards makes the case evident, with superb acting, casting, directing, scriptwriting, pacing, and contemporary relevance. A political speech by protagonist Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), for example, lays out the bald facts about Walmart’s exploitation of the system whereby its underpaid workforce is subdized by government food stamps, which they then spend back in Walmart. Particularly engaging is the device of inserting, in each episode, of two or three asides to the audience. At a particularly low point, in the third season, the beleaguered president barks at the camera: “What are you looking at?”

Each scene is important and they are interspersed well to keep the action moving on multiple fronts. The web of deceit and manipulation in the legislative context is complex yet authentic in its presentation, blended well with the more interpersonal dynamics, the romantic liaisons and alliances of convenience, of the primary and secondary characters.

Perhaps the most telling feature of this series is its genius in portraying Machiavellian evil with a likeable human face – and doing it twice: in the characters of both Underwood and his mostly faithful wife, Claire.

The British version is every bit as entertaining, in just four segments. The understated British personality, master of charming indirection (“You might well think that, Mattie. I couldn’t possibly comment”), comes to the fore here, magnified by camera closeups barely framing a whole character’s face. The repeated cameos of a scuttling rat are over the top, but on the whole they just add to the series’ twisted allure.

-- Nowick Gray

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