Review: HOUSE OF CARDS Ep. 1

Ready for the weekend? Netflix got started at midnight. I woke up this morning and, after putting Finlay on the bus with half an egg and some bits of toast in his belly, I watched the first episode of “House of Cards.” And I have say, it’s going to be a good weekend in front of the telly.

Opening with a hit and run of a neighbor’s poor dog, Congressman Francis Underwood (an always smug Kevin Spacey) drolly explains that their are two types of pain, and as he puts the injured animal out of its significant misery, he tells us he has no use for the useless kind. Underwood is the House Majority Whip and on the eve of the 2013 Presidential Inauguration, he gets some bad news–he’s out as Secretary of State. For a moment, it appears, that the South Carolina politician will allow his arrogant anger to billow forth and burn every bridge. But instead Underwood cooly retreats and pledges his support for the President’s nominee, a boy-scout of sorts. Thus, the table is set. It’s not about revenge for being snubbed but about power, and after so many years in Congress, for Underwood, power is about not letting people know where it comes from.

The sly and subtle story lifted from the UK original from some 20 plus years ago moves well and after the first 30 of the pilot’s 56, I was drawn in. Spacey has never been more effective. He was made for this role, and he clearly is having a wonderful time. The main connection to the original is the clever narration device that has Spacey talking directly to the camera even as events are transporting around him. We are his confidant and as the first episode concludes, we’re complicit in his ambitious campaign of personal and professional destruction.

Underwood’s wife, Claire, is played by the lovely Robin Wright. Unlike other weaker characters she’s inhabited, Wright gives Claire the edge and toughness required for the role of the partner to such a cold and calculating bastard. She’s certainly no victim. Claire runs a non-profit of some sort and uses her husband’s connections to secure financing for the non-profit’s goals. The character is important from the beginning and should factor in well as the series progresses.

Into the mix is Kate Mara playing Zoe Barnes, an ambitious and equally ruthless writer for a Washington newspaper. She’s bored covering lowly stories and wants to get into the fray in the Capital and make a name for herself. After some manipulation, Zoe gets her chance thanks in no small part to Underwood. It helps that Zoe is a sexy girl, but her brains are just as intriguing.

It is fitting that “House of Cards” is released on the same week that Steven Soderbergh announces his retreat from theatrical filmmaking opting to apply his talents on television instead. Sadly, Soderbergh’s “last” theatrical picture is the by-the-numbers “Side Effects” (review is coming), but after taking in just the first episode of “Cards,” I might be convinced that Soderbergh’s statements about TV’s “narrow” and “deep” approach just might be where things should be going. And that means that “Cards” will probably miss at times, but hopefully, its hits will be winning home runs. We will see as the weekend’s feast for Netflix subscribers reaches full-swing.

More sure to come on this evolution in television…

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