House of Cards: Season 1 developed and produced by Beau Willimon (Media Rights Capital, Panic Pictures, Trigger Street Productions, Netflix)

Starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Kate Mara, and Corey Stoll.

Welcome to the Future of Television

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve complained about cable. For me, an avid sports fan and a connoisseur of shows with more depth than network television can offer, I would probably only pay for sports channels and AMC if I had a choice. But I don’t. It’s either all or nothing, and at this point I go for all just to get something.

But what if television could be an entirely different endeavor? What if you could pay for what you watch and not pay for what you don’t watch? What if you could just watch a series when you want to watch it, instead of waiting for weekly installments?

With House of Cards, the online streaming and DVD-by-mail company, Netflix, seeks to change the landscape. Welcome to the future of television.

A Spurned Politician

Based on a BBC miniseries, House of Cards tells the story of Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), a congressman from South Carolina and the House Majority Whip.

The series begins with Frank celebrating the 2012 presidential victory of Garrett Walker (Michael Gill). Having been an integral part of the campaign, Underwood expects to be named Secretary of State. But when the Chief of Staff, Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey), confides to Frank that the President is going in a different direction for the appointment, Underwood resolves to pull apart the Presidency from the inside as an act of revenge.

As Season 1 unfolds, Frank’s revanchist actions hold devastating effect on the people around him. His wife, Claire (Robin Wright), head of a non-profit working toward clean water, often becomes involved in Frank’s schemes whether she wants to participate or not.

Frank elicits the assistance of a young up-and-coming reporter named Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) from the Washington Herald. Frank feels like he can control this asset, advancing him toward his ultimate goal. But is Frank underestimating Zoe?

Finally, Frank requires help in congress and forces troubled Congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stall) to do his dirty work. In order to control Peter, Underwood holds Peter’s demons over his head.

No matter the character, Frank plays everyone as if they are pawns in an elaborate and complicated game of chess.

Compelling Television

House of Cards is an impressive show. Of course, as with most shows, it has its flaws. Interestingly, the way Frank’s machinations influences the people around him makes the show. But, Spacey, as the headliner, receives the lion’s share of the air time, even though I am most interested in the stories of the people around him.

Despite this criticism, House of Cards just produced a thrilling season of television. Executive producer David Fincher’s vision for a weekday-evening, Washington D.C. landscape coupled with gorgeous cinematography makes the political grind captivating. Spacey, as a Southern gentleman, acts impeccably, as does his cold but stoic wife, played by Robin Wright.

Yet as interesting as this series has been, I am most fascinated by its format. Netflix released the entire season at once, hoping to encourage its users to pull a marathon House of Cards weekend. Competing against the network and cable giants, Netflix is trying to change the television landscape, subverting traditional programming with on-demand streaming. I like what the future holds and more importantly for this review, I like House of Cards.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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