Sunday, October 22

Love | Hate: Is ‘House of Cards’ compelling or too flawed to entertain?


Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright star as Frank and Claire Underwood, respectively, in Netflix’s original series, “House of Cards.” (Courtesy of Netflix)

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright star as Frank and Claire Underwood, respectively, in Netflix’s original series, “House of Cards.” (Courtesy of Netflix)


Just in time for the nitty-gritty action of the 2016 presidential election to roll around, Frank Underwood from “House of Cards” and his highly competent and trustworthy (read: evil) political team are returning to Netflix.

The Kevin Spacey-led drama, set around Frank’s criminal race to the executive office alongside his wife Claire (Robin Wright), enters its fourth season of either nail-biting excitement or lumpy storytelling, depending on who you ask.

Netflix released a statement Thursday announcing the show’s renewal for a fifth season, after they released a new trailer for season four Tuesday, Jan. 26.

A&E senior staffers William Thorne and Sebastian Torrelio debate the popular series’ new outing, and whether viewers are stirred or bored by Frank’s scandalous affairs thus far.

Love

“House of Cards” taught me everything I know about American politics.

Coming from the United Kingdom, where my government looks like a shouting match among dismissive old men in tweed, the cut and thrust of the American system seems like a political version of “The Hunger Games.”

Egos clash within and between the parties, as senators and house members form alliances, scheme then betray each other in a seemingly endless loop.

Or at least, that’s the impression I get from “House of Cards.” Therein lies the beauty of the show. It rejuvenates and simplifies American politics, making it comprehensible and even thrilling for someone like me who thought that a caucus was what you called the body of a dead animal.

Apart from the show’s educational aspect, its success stems from Kevin Spacey.

At the core of his performance as Frank Underwood is the beguiling southern drawl he adopts. Having an authoritative, trustworthy voice is often key to climbing the American political ladder, and Spacey puts on a performance which is at once stern and mysterious.

His lines have an almost melodic quality, whether he is serenading a billionaire investor for his presidential campaign, or breaking the fourth wall to declare his murderous political ambition.

In my opinion, “House of Cards” has found the right balance between simplified politics and complex characters. I much prefer having deep, complicated characters with an American politics-for-dummies approach than the other way around.

William Thorne

Hate

Since the very beginning, my main problem with “House of Cards” has been its terribly flawed tone. Creator Beau Willimon exhibits a scummy, low-brow Washington, D.C., filled with out-of-place characters that belong in a gritty crime novel.

But at the very least, the show was always confident. By letting these toxic personalities run wild, there’s a darkness to watching the wheels turn in a governmental system that clearly has more ruthless things to do with its time than run a country.

So it would support the logic of the Netflix series’ third season to step back from Frank’s overly schemed poker game with America and portray his inner humanity with his wife and his colleagues. That’s what all the monologues to the camera should be for, anyway. That’s why season 3 literally starts with Frank looming over his father’s gravestone.

But it all doesn’t add up. Frank, in season three, is nothing at all like Frank in the first two seasons of “House of Cards” – partially because he never chokes someone to death with his bare hands, but also because of his sudden shift to being overly concerned with the soap-opera dramatics of his life. Many of the central characters in previous seasons are now relegated to the background as meaningless props.

Frank will certainly win the Democratic nomination in season four, and probably the presidency – he’s still playing an arcade game with no bosses, after all. But after 39 chapters of heavy unevenness, I’m having a hard time deciding if I want to see it happen.

Sebastian Torrelio

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Thorne is the prime director. He was previously the assistant A&E editor for the Theater | Film | Television beat.


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