Monday, February 17, 2014

House of Cards is Better Because It's Not Great TV

I’ve seen the first five episodes of Season Two of House of Cards. I will absolutely be spoiling the first episode and mention minor things in the next four.

I thought the first season of House of Cards was fine. It had a cool style and fine performances, but it never lived up to the hype that it was creating for itself. Then something changed during the premiere of its new season. It decided that it was going to be crazier.

Sure Frank killed Peter Russo at the end of his convoluted plan to make the Vice President quit. However that was seen as a dark scary moment in Frank’s psyche that allowed him to improvise from his scheme and learned a bit about his psychotic ambition. Yet it still wasn’t that interesting of character inspection because I never cared about Frank. I didn’t care about any character on the show; I felt bad about the lack of control in Peter Russo’s life but now he’s gone.

In Season Two, the show seems to embrace how emotionally distant the show is and will just let us enjoy the chaos. And this show really wants to be chaotic. It’s taking the Breaking Bad big moments without any of the emotional stepping-stones it takes to get to those moments.

At this point in the show, we have a vice president who is essentially a serial killer, a wife who is threatening unborn babies, a McPoyle hacker who will bark like a dog to save his beloved guinea pig and a possible Christian lesbian—definitely Christian, maybe lesbian—who is converting a prostitute who can blackmail the aforementioned VP.

This show is silly.

So very silly.

This is a point that is always reminded whenever Kevin Spacey rejoices in talking to the camera. (I’ve seen his premiere monologue twice and it never fails to make me pump my fist in the air.) Yet whenever he talks to us or rolls his eyes in our direction, the tone of the show insists this is still the finest drama of our generation. Despite all of these goofy elements, I still feel the show is humorless. It buys into its Kool-Aid so much that it wants this drink to be in every school drinking fountain because it’s that good for the next generation.

There’s a moment in the premiere where Frank is recruiting someone to replace him as the Whip and he wants her because he knows she can handle what it entails. Why? Because she was a fighter pilot who had to drop bombs on people. That’s the only equivalent he can think of to compare what he does. A journalist claims this is the greatest story pretty much in the history of the news. The score is so dire and the city is so cold. Nobody is winking at the camera or even suggesting that perhaps these elections aren’t the most important thing in the world. I don’t think this is satire; it’s fulfillment fantasy. This tone is so at odds to the type of stories it is telling, that the result is magical. I’ve never seen a show so serious when talking about people named Tusk and Feng (pronounced Fang). It’s like if Scandal was made by people who only went to private school. (By the way, Scandal is without a doubt a better show.)

I don’t know how this season ends, but I can only assume that Frank will be president. This will leave Season Three to make him King of the Western Hemisphere and then by the series finale, he’ll be the rib-eating Galactic Overlord. We’re essentially watching a show from the point of view of a 24 villain, but there is no Jack Bauer to challenge him. I’m sure this new Whip-to-be will pose some threat, but that won’t stop Frank from murdering her by the reflection pool and then goes home to exercise on his row machine.

A great show challenges the way we present stories and creates characters that are fully realized to make us learn more about our own society. House of Cards is not that. House of Cards is a lot of fun because it thinks it is The Wire while Frank talks to war recreationist who insists on only communicating as his dead relative. There’s room in television for all sorts and House of Cards is finally heading in the right really fun direction. Just don’t tell the cast and crew.

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