Netflix has come out guns blazing with House of Cards, their second original production to launch on the popular online streaming platform. With 4 or 5 further original productions already on the slate for 2013, Netflix is taking the fight to cable giants and and the traditional television structure in more ways than one. This evolution of Netflix isn’t merely speculation, but affirmed by Netflix’s own Ted Sarandos, chief content officer to GQ,
“The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us”
Producing exclusive televisual programming, combined with its deep and varied TV & Film library, Netflix is forging a new media platform that is concurrent with the rise of broadband, mobile, Internet-TV’s and time-shifting viewing habits, and of course at a relatively low cost to the subscriber. Furthermore, House of Cards is created for the binge-viewing generation, those who consume episodes (or even series) at a time. Rejecting the weekly release format, Netflix made House of Cards Season 1 instantly available, which may impact on the longevity of engagement that traditional methods afford, but instead infuses it with a sense of time-sensitivity, hopefully prompting new subscribers or fans in a bid to join the ‘conversation of the week’.
So, it goes without saying that House of Cards is truly fascinating from an industry point of view, but is their early effort the quality television they aspire to?
The show, adapted from a 90’s British series relocates a world of political intrigue and machinations from the halls of Westminster to the corridors of Washington. While it may take a little while for UK viewers to familiarise themselves with the shift in political structure, the show wastes no time in plunging the viewer in to a universal tale of betrayal, revenge and subterfuge of Shakespearian proportions.
With the early episodes helmed by guest directors David Fincher, James Foley & Joel Schumacher it’s evident that Netflix has secured some serious talent for their fledgling production. The impressive roster extends to a cast boasting Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright & Corey Stoll among other new and upcoming performers. Spacey is Francis Underwood, the manipulative and calculating Congressman who has risen from a world of poverty to become a political puppeteer. When he is betrayed by the man be brought to power, he reaffirms his allegiance with a crocodile smile, already plotting the downfall of those in his way.
Hard and unscrupulous, Spacey delivers an intense performance as Underwood as he concocts political conspiracies with surgical precision and composure. While we may become entangled in the web of lies and deceit of the narrative, Spacey’s Underwood often breaks the fourth-wall, delivering chilling soliloquies direct to the audience, enlightening the viewer with genuine and often disturbing revelations of his own introspections that add further layers to both character and plot. It’s a novel device to use, but Underwood’s measured and darkly poetic delivery ensures that viewers have an life-line to grasp in the political quagmire that Underwood is creating for the characters around him.
Despite Fincher’s undisputed pedigree, the early episodes may be a little slow for a series opener, however, I only mention this because it reflects on the new delivery method that Netflix is experimenting with. House of Cards has no shelf-life, with both seasons 1 & 2 already commissioned and of course Netflix being a master of their own destiny. The show is truly character driven, and it takes the time to flesh out the principal players and the political landscape before diving deep in to complex plots and genre-expanding narratives.
House of Cards is a brilliantly solid show. It may lack some of the glamour, action or grittiness of some of its contemporaries, but it stands alone in its field. It’s a fresh addition to the political thriller canon, and delivers wildly beyond expectations. Now it’s just up to you how many you watch at a time.