Friday, May 16, 2014

TV Show review : House of Cards
Gamechanger, Heavyweight, New Player, Revolutionary call it what you want, Netflix has definitely hit it big. Foraying into the content providing business  with a stack of new shows, it definitely is here to stay. Introducing five new series that rolled out in 2013,  Netflix seems to have played its move, as if to say, “Here we are, what are you going to do about it?”. Leading this march of binge series is House of Cards, a remake of the Brit political mini show. The show has an impressive cast, lead by the brilliant Kevin Spacey, renowned actor from such brilliant flicks as The Usual Suspects, L.A. Confidential and American Beauty. House of Cards hooks you in right from the Washington montage of the theme song, and takes you to the corridors of power, as you watch the characters play their cards in a high-stake poker tournament. Spacey sets the pace from the first scene on, effortlessly breaking the fourth-wall, claiming he has no mention for “useless pain”. The show begins with a newly elected President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill). Senator Francis Underwood,played by Spacey, had played an integral part in this victory, in exchange for the position of Secretary of State. Alas, he receives the snub, with Linda Vasquez, the President’s Chief of Staff, informing him the President wants him to stay in the Senate and help shepherd new legislation. Before you can feel pity for him though. Thrown off balance and crushed, Underwood appears to be defeated. To soon for that though, as Claire, his wife, played by Robin Wright, spurs him on. “My husband doesn’t apologize, even to me.”, a line from one of the earlier episodes, captures the tone of their relationship. From there on, its a fast paced, no holds-barred ride, as Underwood embarks on a ruthless campaign with power as his sole and only motive, fuelled by vengeance.   

Francis Joseph 'Frank' Underwood
(Depicted as the 46th President of the United States of America)

Shrewd,calculated moves at every point make this show a delight to watch, but putting the cherry on top is the brilliant performance from right about everyone. Spacey with his Southern accent and mannerisms seems almost perfect for the role of the senator, balancing the pokerface with utmost precision. As mentioned before, he is required to break the fourth-wall, that is, communicate directly with the audience during the show, and he does it with aplomb, making what is usually a dicey stylistic choice into the hallmarks and the biggest strengths of the show.  In House of Cards, Spacey gives a master class in how this is done, his dialogue dripping either with disdain or the calm dismissiveness of a man who already has set damaging events in motion and knows before anyone else the fallout that’s about to occur. Spacey also has a well-honed half eye-roll/half dead-eye stare that’s glorious to behold as he breaks that wall and engages the viewer. Robin Wright delivers the goods as well, playing the role of a conniving suave wife with great success. There exists a terrific chemistry between the two. Their main connection seems to be that they crave power and influence more than any other couple and feed off it in an almost sexual way. Almost gleefully manipulative, Frank and Claire trust no one but themselves, and together weave an intricate web of deception, lies , favours and absolutely genius political maneuvers to try and get their way. Michael Gill impresses as the gullible President, falling into Underwood’s trap progressively, episode by episode. The supporting cast with Underwood’s chief of staff Doug Stamper ( Michael Kelly), the artful lobbyist Remy Danton(Mahershala Ali) and the gritty journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) not to mention the vindictive Raymond Tusk (Gerald McRaney) pack together a show that keeps you waiting and watching. Beau Willimon, from Ides of March fame, has written a masterpiece, balancing the show very well. Each show drips with impeccable dialogues, and the show is burgeoning with marvellous quotes. He’s deftly able to make it shift characters and moods with ease. That means Francis isn’t always a devouring person. In one scene, we find that he -- like so many others -- owes a great deal to lobbyists. In other scenes, Willimon makes sure he fleshes out the characters so they’re not one-dimensional. If they’re doing awful things, he finds subtle ways to make that reverberate.Even better is when he does the unexpected. Outside on the street, a crazy man -- half naked, dirty and with wild, stringy hair -- is grunting and roaring like an animal. Francis walks over, bends down and looks him in the eyes, which eventually calms the man. Says Francis: “Nobody can hear you. Nobody cares. Nothing will come of this”.  
Douglas 'Doug' Stamper (President Frank's assistant)
Overall, the subplots and the supporting cast resonate well with the main storyline, be it Claire’s past, Freddie’s joint, the journalism angles, or the female senator, Jackie Sharp’s character.  While the first season sees Underwood fend of obstacles and get closer to his goal, the second sees him embroiled in a power struggle with Raymond Tusk, while trying to undermine the sitting president, all the time maintaining a show of his loyalty. Watch this show for the sheer cunning, gritty, manipulative, shrewd and icy cool Spacey, and her equally dangerous, subtle, smart and colluding wife in Robin Wright.

Claire Underwood
(President Underwood's wife)

Netflix gets its customers. It gets that people can now watch their favorite TV show for hours, one after the other. And that is what it did, with House of Cards, unleashing the entire season at one go, to be binge watched. Not needing to worry about ratings or maintaining the crowd every episode premiere, or for finale buildups, this sounds like a revolution. And one that is definitely here to say.
Peter Russo (Member of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Zoe Marie Barnes (A Washington-based journalist)

- Harshit Sahay