Sunday, February 3, 2013
Netflix's *House of Cards
All three 13 episodes of Netflix’s original re-make of the BBC House of Cards (1990) available at once. Released on Feb 1, being sick, Himself not back from Haiti until Tuesday night, the undelightful deep freeze temperatures, today and tomorrow all Koch funeral and Superbowl, this is perfect for me. I’ve watched so far through episode 7.
What's entertaining me particularly is the contrast between the English original (though that too was based on a novel) and this Americanized version. Since no (contemporary?) American actor can approach the polish of elegant, urbane, sophisticated malice that Ian Richardson achieves effortlessly, it was smart to make this version's protag a rumpled South Carolinian. Nevertheless one does feel that John C. Calhoun would curl his lip at Underwood's decadent exercise of purely personal political power rather than the pursuit of power in service to political and philosophical doctrine, which as a good South Carolinian should be eternal and expansionist white supremacy and the power of the south, particularly that of South Carolina. Moreover, it's a serious implausibility that there is a powerful federal Democrat from South Carolina these days, as South Carolina again agitates for secession as much as it did during the Nullification Crisis of Calhoun's day.
The stand out performance is that of Robin Wright as Claire, Spacey's Underwood's wife. She maintains within each scene Ice Queen's smooth control -- a steel magnolia -- while managing to project through these small screens that there is volcanic rumbling behind the imperturbable exterior -- without raising her voice. Unlike in the original, this time around it's the wife who possesses Richardson's elegance -- she's Best of Show.
Bloggers tend to compare this House of Cards with the canceled-after-two-seasons, Chicago political drama, Boss, but I don't see them as much alike. With Claire we know this House of Cards will never throw up the gratuitous cruelty to women that Boss consistently did. Boss was brutal, flat, lacking any charm, elegance or humor; it was preoccupied by prolonged, detailed humiliation of every female character. Boss, and its Chicago, are squarely ugly as well as claustrophobic, as monochromatically dull as all-masculine cultures are. House of Cards is more colorful, with air and space (though the Underwoods' D.C. home is modest and dingy, despite mod cons -- so different from the Urquharts' tasteful, restful and lovely homes, gardens and grounds).
I hope we get to see more of the fictional South Carolina district from which Majority Whip Underwood comes -- particularly since HoC’s location shoots were in Baltimore and Maryland, for which state I have great affection, which is anything but grey, and is populated by various strong, effective, charming, stylish, smart women who take care of so much of Maryland’s business.
This isn't an innovative, original show, but it is solidly entertaining so far, even though D.C.’s physical environment is in large swathes more elegant and charming than the city's represented here – this is where HoC most looks like Boss, to my eyes. One speculates that Boss's choice in treating all the female characters in the drama so badly and having them show up so poorly was how it thought to distinguish itself from the political drama and plot drivers of the first House of Cards. But the women, who, as mentioned on this House of Cards, have agency, are the primary reason why it is more interesting, more involving and has more suspense than Boss.