Never Built for Shelter

I finished watching House of Cards on Netflix this weekend. John mentioned that he watched it, but I haven’t seen anyone review it here yet, so a few spoiler-ridden impressions after the break. If you’ve watched the whole thing, let us know what you thought in the comments. Spoliers come next, you’ve been warned.

Kevin Spacey likes to ham it up and the Frank Underwood role gives him that chance. The little asides that dot the episodes became a bit distracting but at the beginning they were necessary to introduce us to the couple dozen characters that we had to track to understand the show. Overall, I liked his portrayal, he seemed to be having fun living in Frank’s skin. Since Frank dominates the series, unless you like Spacey’s Underwood, you’re probably not going to like the rest of it.

I liked the way that Frank and Claire’s relationship was portrayed. They had an essentially open marriage where betrayal was defined as lying or concealing rather than fucking someone else, which is probably fairly accurate for a lot of power couples.

The DC press corpse got off a little too easy for my taste. The print dinosaur editor of the Washington Herald, who chides the ambitious reporter Zoe Barnes by saying that she’s not going to be the next Judy Miller, gave the Post its due, satirically. But Slugline, the faster-than-Politico Politico where Zoe and Janine Skorsky end up, is portrayed as a hard-hitting investigative organ, which is pretty unrealistic if the goal of the place is to beat Politico at winning the morning. But, as a plot device, Slugline had to put pressure on Frank, and so it did.

A lot of Zoe’s personal decisions didn’t make sense to me. I don’t know why she had to have an affair with Frank to get more out of him (he seemed interested in using her without the sex), and then she bounces from daddy-figure Frank to weenie Lucas.

The total fealty of staff towards their bosses was pretty realistic, though Stamper’s role as basically a CIA field agent was a little over-the-top and unbelievable.

The whole Peter Russo plot required us to buy that a guy savvy enough to get elected from a tough part of Philly was also dumb enough to do some of the stuff that he did. That was a hard sell for me at least. In general, the VP plot was pretty unbelievable, but a DC drama that is believable would be incredibly dull, so it’s the price of admission for the existence of the series.

By the way, here’s the real Frank Underwood – he lost in the 2010 wave.

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48 replies
  1. 1
    Schlemizel says:

    I know zip about House of Cards, why do you say Spratt is the real Underwood?

  2. 2
    closeted epistemic (formerly lojasmo) says:

    Amazingly well done. Spacey was a perfect choice.

  3. 3
    mistermix says:

    @Schlemizel: Underwood represents SC-5 in the show, and that’s the district Spratt represented. Spratt was chair of the House Budget Committee, which is a big deal committee assignment. Frank is House Majority Whip, a bigger deal, but both would be power brokers.

  4. 4
    YellowJournalism says:

    I don’t know why she had to have an affair with Frank to get more out of him

    I get kind of tired of this type o plot device, just because it seems to usually happen where the woman is the one using sex to get something, which plays into too many stereotypes about women having to use sex for something rather than just being sexual people. Damn temptresses!

  5. 5
    Schlemizel says:

    @mistermix:

    But its not about his real life story, right? Or is it?

  6. 6
    gogol's wife says:

    @YellowJournalism:

    Totally OT, I have no idea what Netflix is, but I keep wanting to say hi to my fellow Shirley Temple fan!

  7. 7
    Ferd of the Nort says:

    Sounds like the usual second rate clone of a British series. I think the original ended up on Masterpiece theatre one season.

  8. 8
    mercurino says:

    My problem with the show is that Frank is a total fucking sociopath. His whole plan doesn’t make any sense. He’s out to destroy the president…why, exactly? Because he didn’t get SecState? If he were a calculating Machiavellian motherfucker it’d be one thing. But most of his actions seem like they’re driven by a desire to be evil. And I love that South Carolina is portrayed as some kind of biracial utopia.

  9. 9
    Brachiator says:

    I haven’t had a chance to see this yet, but am looking forward to it when I have more time. I really enjoyed the British series on which this version is based, also called House of Cards, and highly recommend it.

    The little asides that dot the episodes became a bit distracting but at the beginning they were necessary to introduce us to the couple dozen characters that we had to track to understand the show.

    This was an essential part of the original series, and made the viewer a co-conspirator with the main character. It also seemed to be a bit of a nod to Shakespeare’s Richard III, who directly addresses the audience throughout the play. Nice bit of irony that the original Tricky Dick has been in the news recently.

  10. 10
    askew says:

    Overall I liked the series. I thought the most interesting storyline was the PA Rep, Brosso’s. There is no way that the DNC would have supported his run as Governor though after his failure to defend his district from the base closing.

    I have one nagging question about the series though – does the majority whip and his wife separate really get Secret Service protection? I thought the Secret Service only protected the following people:

    President
    First Family (including adult children)
    Vice President
    First Family (not including adult children?)
    Chief of Staff
    Other Senior Staff as needed
    Cabinet Heads

  11. 11
    JPL says:

    I binge watched House of Cards and you only want to do that if the acting and the writing is terrific. Clare Dane will not be a shoo in for next year’s emmy because Robin Wright’s performance was great. Zoe’s character is interesting. In the beginning, she arrived at work in her jeans and looked unkempt. As her position at the Herald started to change, so did her appearance and then when she went to online only, her appearance changed again. Zoe initiated the affair just as much as Frank did because she wanted power. It’s a game.
    Did anyone else notice that Frank’s compassion for the dog and Russo came across as the same? They both were dying.
    Since Netflix contracted for 26 episodes, what card will bring down the house of Underwood? It could be as simple as
    the homosexual affair that was alluded to or it could be the investigation. I hoping it is the Union boss who understood that Frank had his window busted out. Maybe he’ll tell the security policeman.

  12. 12
    Sly says:

    A decent show, and more than I expected from NetFlix first foray into producing its own content.

    Spacey’s monologues are a nice touch, because they help the audience identify with the character by making us complicit in his crimes. “This is what I think of these people, this is how I’m going to beat them, this is why they deserve it, and I bet you can’t wait to see what I do next.” Frank Underwood is not Shakespeare’s Richard III, the most successful example of this kind of theater I can think of, but Spacey does a pretty good job making me want to keep watching a guy who I dislike.

    The press-related stuff I thought was cliched and ventured too much into media navel-gazing for my tastes. Robin Wright was really good.

  13. 13
    JPL says:

    Last night I watched the two available episodes of The Americans on FX. The first episode was intriguing but the second episode, not so much. That’s a show I may or may not stream again.

  14. 14
    Sly says:

    @askew:
    They’re not Secret Service. The Legislative Branch maintains its own Capitol Police.

  15. 15
    Louise says:

    I agree with the critique, but have to say that — other than the Zoe/Frank affair — I loved it front to back despite the issues, and watched it all in a binge. The performances are terrific (Robin Wright is scary good), the writing, even with the absurdities of the plot, is intelligent and it *looks* good. The score is solid, as well.

    It’s hard to make DC even more Machiavellian than it is, but the show accomplishes it.

    Happy to see Corey Stoll get a great part — but how do he or any of the others get rewarded? Is this a “television” show?

  16. 16
    sb says:

    I liked it a lot more than you did, apparently. I thought the performances were outstanding. The show as slow was slow in spots but overall, worth the hours I put into to watching it (love binge TV). As to some of your other comments:

    They had an essentially open marriage where betrayal was defined as lying or concealing rather than fucking someone else, which is probably fairly accurate for a lot of power couples.

    Or probably not, depending on who you’re willing to call a power couple.

    As for the media portrayal, I’m not sure what you mean by “easy”–the paper gave in to its Judy Miller, the owner overruled the editor… I liked that conflict. And it wasn’t Slugline that put pressure on Frank so much as it was the reporters within Slugline who did that. They used Sluglines motto of “get the information out there fast and raw” as a means to an end.

    Zoe’s personal decisions made sense because of her character progression. Did you catch the part where she was genuinely attracted to Frank? She didn’t have to sleep with him, she wanted to initially. And Lucas is a “weenie”? I know being unsentimental and contrary is your shtick (and I say that as a fan) but, jeebus, the guy did help with the story against Frank. Oh, but he loves Zoe so that makes him a weenie–I get it. I forgot who I was talking to. :)

    The “dumb enough” comment about Peter was probably the most head-scratching moment for me reading your critique. Um, the guy was an addict. He was doing what addicts–both recovering and active–do.

  17. 17
    askew says:

    @Sly:

    @askew:
    They’re not Secret Service. The Legislative Branch maintains its own Capitol Police.

    Ah, thanks. For some reason, I thought they were Secret Service. I also didn’t realize the Capitol Police did anything but protect the capitol.

  18. 18
    phoebes-in-santa fe says:

    I’ve only watched the first two parts and will probably finish up the series. I like Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. And I like the way Spacey talks directly to the viewer.

    What I find completely unbelievable is that Spacey and the others are DEMOCRATS. Whether it’s the cleverness factor or the wimpiness factor, I can’t believe that Democrats would do what Underwood and the others are doing. (Mostly wimpiness, I think; Dems might “want” to be brutal, but we, unfortunately, don’t usually the balls to do what Underwood does in the film.)

    Until I realised that Underwood, et all, were supposed to be Democrats, I assumed they were Republicans, which would be more likely.

  19. 19
    Sly says:

    @mercurino:
    Ego. Frank Underwood is like Iago; he thinks he’s always going to be the smartest person in the room, but is perfectly willing to be an official subordinate so long as his superiors make the necessary propitiations towards him. The plot for the Vice Presidency isn’t so much about revenge, but getting his proper due. Especially since his proper due was denied to him by people who he thinks are inferior to him and don’t deserve the power that they have.

  20. 20
    hitchhiker says:

    I also binge-watched it . . . can’t seem to get enough of DC pathology, real or fictional.

    I love the idea of a netflix series, and I REALLY love getting a whole season all at once. So stupid to dole out episodes one per week when they’re ready to go.

  21. 21
    Ohmmade says:

    I’ve watched five episodes now, and while the format is fun, it just fails to deliver.

    Most of the plot lines are completely unbelievable. Sure, artistic license and all that, but they are breaking reality to shove a crappy plot line, when you could easily write within the framework of reality instead.

    Overall, I give the show a C.

    Next up on original Netflix shows, Arrested Development season three in April!!

  22. 22
    brent says:

    @askew: His security detail was not secret service. They were some sort of special DC police unit. Also not the way it works in real life but that was actually made plain at one point near the end of the series.

  23. 23
    brent says:

    @askew: @Sly: @brent:

    Obviously I didn’t see Sly’s comment. Makes sense. Don’t know why that didn’t occur to me.

  24. 24
    Joyhc says:

    @phoebes-in-santa fe: I agree but I figured they decided they had to make frank a dem or the republicans would make a big stink. WTABs that they are, they would take offense and not appreciate that it is fiction. I think Francis was a Tory in the original British series.

  25. 25
    Joyhc says:

    @phoebes-in-santa fe: I agree but I figured they decided they had to make frank a dem or the republicans would make a big stink. WTABs that they are, they would take offense and not appreciate that it is fiction. I think Francis was a Tory in the original British series.

  26. 26
    phoebes-in-santa fe says:

    @Joyhc: That’s what I vaguely remember, too, about the original series, that Urquehart was a Tory. Not making him a Republican in this series was wrong, and frankly, rendered it unbelievable.

  27. 27
    pamelabrown53 says:

    @Ohmmade: I think it’s more than okay that the plot is “completely unbelievable”. So was the original British series by the same name. IMO. it’s not meant to be analyzed to death but just be a bit of wicked fun.

    I’ve mini-binged it with 2 episodes to go and I think it’s delicious…though not quite as “fattening” as the original! We, on the left, are too prone to over-intellectualizing which sucks the joy and fun out, leaving a pile of dessicated,powdery cynicism.

  28. 28
    natthedem says:

    Not sure that Spratt can be considered the real Frank Underwood, as the series is based on the UK series, which is based on a trio of books by Michael Dobbs (a conservative British writer).

    I finished watching the series yesterday and while some of it seemed implausible, it was entertaining enough that I hope there’s a second season. A few thoughts/responses…

    – I’m really surprised that more people aren’t commenting on Underwood’s sexuality, as it was one of the more surprising storylines in the series to me. I’m not sure if this was a part of original series or if was crafted in response to questions about Spacey’s sexuality.

    – I’m not as surprised by Zoe latching onto Lucas as you are, mistermix. After the visit from Claire, it’s abundantly clear what the nature of her relationship with Frank is, and it makes sense that she’d run to the only person who’d expressed genuine feelings for her.

    – There was, pretty much, nothing about the Peter Russo storyline that was plausible, but Corey Storr’s portrayal made it worthwhile.

    – I know Hulu and Netflix have done original series before but this one seems to have broken through…which bodes well for the forthcoming “Arrested Development” revival.

  29. 29
    Cervantes says:

    Difficult to believe it’s been a quarter of a century since the UK original was broadcast. Ian Richardson was great in it; he and Michael Kitchen were very good in the sequel as well.

  30. 30
    MazeDancer says:

    The middle eps were not as sparkling as the start and finish. Kept wondering throughout what Seaon 1 meant. Finding out that after 13 episodes one got no answers was not what I wanted. But was also happy there would be seaon 2.

    Zoe slutting to the top felt anachronistic, male fantasy and not real. And the daddy phone call sex scene was just, plain ick. Would have much preferred Zoe and Frank understanding each other from ambition POV. But maybe the sexless aspect of the Underwood’s marriage, leaving no room for on screen hijinks, made them go with girl puts out meme. But felt so limp and not interesting to use some Mad Men era cliche.

    But was Frank just using sex to bind Zoe? if his one true love was a man, why would Frank want to sleep with Zoe?

    Also totally not buying that decades ago in SC the cadet would have shrugged off servicing Frank as it made Frank happy and the friend “didn’t see any harm in it.”

  31. 31
    Dee Loralei says:

    I’m on ep 12 1/2. And I’ll finish it, but damn I do not like one character.(OK a few of the minor folks I did like.) I haven’t seen the original and I will soon, because I find political intrigue of any sort fascinating. These are Dems? HA! Unbelievable. But it’s beautifully shot and incredibly well acted, I’m just having a hard time getting into it fully.

  32. 32
    JPL says:

    @natthedem: I mentioned the sexuality issue and it’s possible that will be undoing of the House of Underwood but I doubt it. I think the union boss tells the security policeman about the brick.

  33. 33
    JPL says:

    Question
    When Claire approached Gillian it was obviously about power but when she approached Zoe in the same way, it appeared sexual to me. Maybe she was trying to see what Frank saw in her. I do think Claire taped Gillian’s conversation so the lawsuit will not be integral to next season.

  34. 34
    YellowJournalism says:

    @gogol’s wife: hello! I think TCM is going to broadcast one of her later movies this month!

  35. 35
    gogol's wife says:

    @YellowJournalism:

    The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Wed at noon. I really prefer her as a child, but Cary Grant has some nice scenes with her in this one.

  36. 36
    Citizen Alan says:

    @mercurino:

    His whole plan doesn’t make any sense. He’s out to destroy the president…why, exactly? Because he didn’t get SecState?

    Haven’t seen the new series yet, but if it follows the UK version, his ultimate plan is to force a snap election in which, by process of elimination, he is the only logical choice to become leader of the majority party, which due to the political situation in the UK circa 1990 was a perfectly viable way for Francis Urquart to become Prime Minister. The fact that elections in the U.S. don’t work that way has apparently not dissuaded the writers from following the general plot outline of a novel/miniseries set against the backdrop of British politics during the John Major era. I can’t wait to see what devious schemes Frank Underwood uses in the next series to force the King of America to abdicate.

  37. 37
    karl says:

    Saw it; enjoyed it it but wasn’t overwhelmed (the original overwhelmed).

    Many people have a problem with the asides, perhaps it’s because this version is less overtly theatrical (both Spacy and the directorial ambiance) than the Richardson version — a difference in tone that begins with the theme music.

    “Slutting your your way to the top” may be unfashionable but it is hardly unrealistic, and will never disappear.

    Of course Democrats can be amoral schemers! Good heavens, but you people are idealists (or just too young to remember) — even so, the theory that Republicans would scream bloody murder if F.U. were of their tribe is too sadly true.

    I miss the phrase “put a bit of stick about.”

    The real unbelievable plot point for me was: a white S.C. Democrat? Thanks for setting me straight about Spratt — who knew?.

  38. 38
    kmeyerthelurker says:

    We just finished the whole thing as well. Zoe and Russo stand out as the weak links, IMO. Neither character is that believable. I also groaned and rolled my eyes as a $250M spending project somehow becomes national news. If its not well into the billions, its never even a blip. I liked the main couple most, I suppose. Their relationship seems almost completely platonic — Its never even implied that they are off to boink each other.

  39. 39
    Zandar says:

    @mercurino:

    Frank’s entire plan after the President screws him out of SecState is to end up Veep, and then (presumably) President. We find out late in the season that the President wanted Frank as Majority Whip to Get Shit Done in Congress, and was never going to be anything more.

    Frank decided that he was worth more than that, hence the long, convoluted plan of completely manipulating his way to the position as a practical demonstration of just who the President was passing over.

  40. 40
    Mr Stagger Lee says:

    I thought it was a good series, no complaints, I too am a sucker for corrupt political movies going back to All The King’s Men. I will wait for the 2nd season of this show. I am right now watching the British Version, and yes I agree it is a much better series,but Netflix did a good job and kudos to Kevin Spacey one of my favorite actors.
    Oh BTW I have a friend from Gaffney, SC and yes that is how they view the Peachoid.

  41. 41
    Cain says:

    The funny thing is the sumbitch, Frank is a Democrat or something like that. Which plays against a lot of stereotypes of Democrats.

    I’ve only watched teh first episode, so I’ll be working on the next couple ones. It’s great that Netflix has come up wtih such a great show.

    Some of us, Browncoats are now waiting to see if we can get Netflix to start working on Firefly. I think Castle is going to start winding down now. It probably maybe has two seasons left and it might be great to see all these people back and working on new episodes of Firefly and give a gigantic fuck you to Fox.

  42. 42
    hells littlest angel says:

    A scheming, evil Democrat, a corrupt teachers’ union and a slutty-slut slut-slut who can only get ahead by being a slut. Who wrote this shit, Rush Limbaugh? Aside from the ludicrous characters and the excruciatingly bad dialogue and the half-assed stereotypes (kudos, I guess, for not having the BBQ owner say “yassuh, boss,” to Underwood), the script strikes me as utterly ignorant of social and political realities in the United States — a national teachers’ strike? — strikers dropping their picket signs for a free can of beer?

    I’m not at all a fan of Spacey, and his inability to keep his accent consistent has done nothing to raise him in my estimation.

    By the way, the British original is one of my all-time favorite series.

  43. 43
    Cervantes says:

    @karl: “I miss the phrase ‘put a bit of stick about.'”

    You might say that. I couldn’t possibly comment.

  44. 44
    Julia Grey says:

    I loved it, although little things did bug me along the way, like the fact that the Shipyard Union (?) leader kept showing up in a Washington congressman’s office in things like a frayed chambray shirt and a longshoreman’s jacket. With a five ten o’clock shadow…

    Oh yeah, we needed to know this guy was the salt of the earth, and they couldn’t think of any other way to do it than to make him look like he’d stopped in to the halls of Congress to order a sixer of Schlitz. :: sigh ::

    As a South Carolinian I very much enjoyed the “down home” episode in spite of those couple of “biracial utopia” clangers. Much of the rest of the interaction struck me as beautifully on point, particularly the little town meeting. Frank’s aside about the power of displays of public humility in the South (whether the display is genuine or calculated like his) was SPOT-on.

  45. 45
    Julia Grey says:

    Why does it say I don’t I have permission to edit my own comment???

  46. 46
    karl says:

    @Julia Grey: Because you don’t know the secret handshake.

  47. 47
    JeremyH says:

    I’m a huge fan of the original british series, so I couldn’t help but compare the Netflix remake to that. And to be honest, I found this one to be… flat. Inert. Airless.

    One of the joys of the original british one was the wicked sense of humour that coursed through it. When Francis Urquhart addressed the camera directly, he made the audience feel part of the conspiracy – you almost cheer him on, even as he ruthlessly cheats, lies and murders his way to the top. In the Netflix version, Kevin Spacey’s asides to camera didn’t draw me in. There was none of the nudge-and-a-wink feeling, and I think that’s a great shame.

    I dunno – it all felt too serious and self-important. But that’s a hallmark of David Fincher’s work, I’m afraid. Great director, but not known for his sense of humour.

  48. 48
    Popeye says:

    strikers dropping their picket signs for a free can of beer?

    I thought these were presumably ringers, brought out on short notice for a political stunt that backfired?

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