Cable Series Review: House of Cards (American Version)

SpaceyCardsThumbby Brad Nelson
I watched the first two episodes (available for streaming on Netflix) of the American version of House of Cards. It stars Kevin Spacey as the counterpart of Ian Richardson’s “Francis Urquhart.” The rest of the cast is made up of b-grade (if that) actors (with a couple possible exceptions). This is a made-for-Netflix production and they obviously blew most of their money on getting Spacey.

Even so, Spacey isn’t particularly great in this, although he’s certainly okay. And I count myself a Kevin Spacey fan.

The specifics of this series are a bit different from the original British series, but the point is the same: Spacey, as majority whip in the House, Francis Underwood, is out to exact revenge upon his higher-up rivals. Francis was instrumental in getting the president-elect elected and was promised the post of Secretary of State. But at the last moment the offer was rescinded.

Didn’t these guys see the ruthless Francis Urquhart in the first series? Bad move. This is not a guy you want for an enemy. And as with the original British House of Cards, one of Francis Underwood’s chief means to exact his revenge and forward his political machinations is by taking a young reporter under his wing who he uses for strategic leaking.

We’ll see if some kind of love affair (or infatuation with power on her part) breaks out as it did in the original series. So far, this American reporter, played by Kate Mara, has little of the charm of the original Mattie Storin, played by Susannah Harker. But she’s adequate enough. Again, don’t expect top-notch. These are soap-opera (or Sci-Fi Original Movie…well, maybe not that bad) quality stars.

And Buttercup, of all people, plays Spacey’s wife. I did not recognize Robin Wright. I simply noticed her name in the credits. She’s got a severe look to her, especially with the short “bitch” hair (and I suspect she could excel in this cold-blooded role). She’s arguably the most fleshed-out character in the series thus far.

And the role for the wife-of-Francis has expanded. Mrs. Underwood is in charge of some kind of charity or foundation. That plot line hasn’t gone anywhere and just seems like a needless distraction at this point. Perhaps it’s just a bit of token “equal time for men and women villains” in a nod to political correctness. We’ll see.

And it would appear that Corey Stoll (playing drug-addled Rep. Peter Russo) is the counterpart of Roger O’Neill, one of the characters in the original series who anchored much of the realism and drama of that show. Again, Miles Anderson is clearly heads-and-tails above the performance being given by Corey Stoll. But Stoll is, again, just adequate for the part. He could even ripen a bit into more-than-adequate. We’ll see again.

A bit of the surprise in this series is that Spacey is a Democrat, not an evil Republican. I’m surprised that they didn’t just automatically make the Republicans the bad guys. Francis Urquhart in the original series was a member of the Conservative Party, not Labor. I guess that’s a step up from the usual cliches in this American series.

The story is good enough so far to keep you interested. It’s fun watching Spacey pull his various levers as he sets up revenge step-by-step. And although the cast is a little light in talent, the production values are rather good in terms of just the general look, direction, and cinematography. There’s certainly some talent behind the camera, at least in these first two episodes.

Apparently, House of Cards is right now into its second season. I have no idea if, like the original British series, there is some natural conclusion that limits the series of if they’ll just try to keep it going. For now, I’ll watch a few more episodes and report back. • (1455 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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3 Responses to Cable Series Review: House of Cards (American Version)

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m through the fifth episode of this. A couple actors have grown in stature in my eyes and a couple have shrunk. First, let’s start with the good.

    Corey Stoll, who plays the drug-addled and easily-manipulated Congressman Peter Russo, is becoming more believable as a character. He’s gained gravitas if only in how pathetic he is.

    The one truly outstanding actor in this series just got fired. He’s the editor of the Washington Herald, Tom Hammerschmidt, played by Boris McGiver. Too bad. He’s the one actor in this series who had some punch to him.

    Kate Mara, as Zoe Barnes, remains bland. And although Kevin Spacey has his moments, he’s clearly miscast in this part. He shares almost none of the believability of Ian Richardson in the original series. When Spacey breaks that “fourth wall” and talks directly to the audience, it usually falls flat. But in the case of Ian Richardson, he could give you just a quick glance and it said everything.

    Part of this has to do with the writing. But I think much of this is just the unsuitability of Spacey for this role. He has some moments, such as when he is disingenuously giving a sermon in his home town in order to avoid a lawsuit. But otherwise he’s nothing special, I’m sorry to say. Part of the fault, again, is in the poor writing. Unlike the original “House of Cards,” the machinations of Spacey’s character are not particularly believable. Spacey is clearly a Machiavellian type.

    But Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart splendidly played the “party soldier” who achieved his position by sheer seniority but who otherwise doesn’t seem particularly clever. Urguhart took advantage of this and spun his machinations behind the scenes and was rightly never even remotely suspected of being the mastermind behind so many scandals and plots. But with Spacey’s character, there is no presumption that this guy is anything but a wild political animal.

    This unbelievability of plot — the unwillingness to suspend disbelief — is a fairly common occurrence these days. I think part of this is just due to the libtard nature of “Progressivism” in which it becomes quite common to just believe whatever the hell you want to believe. There need be no anchoring of anything to reality.

    I’ll continue to watch a couple more episodes. But this series is becoming less attractive as it goes on. Usually the soap opera nature of these types of shows will draw you in even if they aren’t particularly well written. Indeed, it is this aspect that makes the Peter Russo character more interesting. But the rest of them, Who cares?

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m through the eighth episode of this. For the dumbed-down tastes of a modern audience, this is actually quite good. But I tend to compare it to the original BBC production which was exquisite. Anyway, a few further random thoughts:

    Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) is beginning to bore me as a character. But I suspect this has to do more with the bland writing than her acting.

    The same with Congressman Russo who Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is championing for governor for Pennsylvania for some reason. There’s an odd disconnect with this character. He lacks even basic political charisma. I don’t see why anyone would think he would be a desirable candidate.

    Maybe the disconnect is just with me, because if you look at some of the oddballs, freaks, and frauds on the Left (Rahm Emanuel), you do realize that Democrat Party operatives, and their dumbed-down constituency, do have a different view of what is good from what I do. Maybe the show was being smart on this point. I don’t know. But I just don’t see how anyone would think this Russo guy could run for governor.

    Stamper is emerging, at least slightly, as a more interesting character. He has a long way to go to match the engaging performance by Colin Jeavons as Tim Stamper in the original British series. But at least he is beginning to make his character seem real.

    The worse character and performance of all continues to be Kate Mara as the reporter, Zoe Barnes. She just lacks any kind of charisma on screen. Even Kevin Spacey is a bit bland. He has his moments, but it seems as if he is somewhat sleepwalking his way through this.

    One minor role is that of the guy who plays the Vice President. The President himself is a totally forgettable character. But the VP is played with some interest.

    Overall I’d say that this series lack the depth and “soul” (a dark soul that it was) of the original British series. It veers too much into inanity. There is a dramatic seriousness and urgency in the original series that this one lacks. It’s watchable, but not abundantly so.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    House of Cards update:

    I’ve just finished the first season of “House of Cards,” the American version. It’s the only season available on Netflix for the moment.

    Like any glorified soap opera, if you stay with it, even thin or shallow characters can gain some interest. And I would say that has happen to some extent with all of them…except the chick reporter who I find just not particularly interesting or well-acted.

    Anyway, if you don’t want any spoilers, stop reading now. Although this is the kind of show that, while ostensibly plot-driven, is really a character-driven show. It’s never in question that Frank Underwood won’t keep climbing the greasy pole of power. It’s never in question that he won’t leave in his wake a wreckage of lives while doing so. It’s never in question that the reporter he has been using will eventually turn around and try to use him.

    And I don’t know that the original “House of Cards” series was particular plot-driven either. I don’t remember that it depended upon a series of twists and turns. The appeal was/is watching these politicians do their conniving. And that is the case with Kevin Spacey as well in this new series. Whether he becomes Vice President and eventually President (which is his goal), we don’t know or particularly care. The fun is in seeing the hand-to-hand political combat and maneuvering along the way.

    One character who did gain stature in this series after a slow start was Peter Russo. He does have some plot-element points that I won’t get into. But near the end of this season, while on the end of the travails wrought by Francis Underwood (Spacey), I would say that Corey Stoll does some very nice work as an actor.

    The same can’t really be said for Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) who simply wears a half-scowl for most of the series. In one of the later episodes there is even dialogue from her about this. I think she’s capable of more as an actress, but the subplot she is involved in is rather trivial and uninteresting.

    All in all, if you see it as a pale shadow of the original British series — but a still watchable one — you’ll enjoy this. Kevin Spacey is not quite the match for Ian Richardson in the lead. And his asides to the camera generally fall flat. I do recommend that you see the original British series first before watching this. It is available in full on Netflix for streaming.

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