I finished the first season of House of Cards on Netflix. I didn’t like it. The characters were cold and lifeless, the writing pedestrian, the plots predictable and the politics largely absent and thinly constructed. Too often I found myself doubting the plot points while watching the same old tropes wrung out.
Which is a shame, because Kevin Spacey (Frank), Kristen Connolly (Christine) and Corey Stoller (Russo) do a phenomenal job acting.
1. Have a likable character – somewhere. Frank? No. His ice-cold wife, a poorly conceived role played well by the mesmerizing Robin Wright? No. Zoe, played by Kate Mara? At first, I thought yes, but by the end of the season, she’s just an unemotional journabot, nearly sociopathic. The only remotely likable characters are Christine and Lucas the lovesick editor.
2. Avoid the tropes: politician caught with hooker? scheming ladder climber? the all-powerful corporation behind the scenes? It’s all too troped to death with nothing original added.
3. No opposition? This show is adapted from a British show, based on parliamentary politics. In American politics, there ought to be some attention paid to the opposition. This show barely includes Democrats in the Senate, much less Republicans anywhere. Inter-party sniping would be a rich vein of drama and scheming, but it’s completely ignored.
4. Make it believable. Manipulating people is too easy for Frank. His growing pile of scandals would make him bounced immediately by any Vice President vetting committee. He kills another congressman, he backstabs the majority leader, his wife runs away and cheats on him, he cheats on her, he abuses power any number of ways, he causes an extended teacher strike and he makes an ass of himself on CNN. Oh, and a 1st term addict Congressman dresses down the VP, and the VP listens and immediately changes his behavior? Yes the show really is a House of Cards – but not in a good way.
5. Villains screw up – nice to see Frank have to adjust when things don’t go as planned. I felt that bits of his actual character came through in those moments.
6. Character consistency – Frank is owned by a corporation, but doesn’t want to sell out to get the vice presidency? What was his ‘crossfire’ screw up? That should have been a career-ender, but no one seems to remember that it happened, including him. Every major character is inconsistent, like they were written by committee. The end of the season didn’t seem consistent with the beginning. Kristen Connolly’s hair changes from brown to blond in the middle of an episode.
7. Show emotion – I call it the NYPD Blue problem. Everyone is an unemotional zombie, never surprised, or sad, or happy. Just solemn, understated, somewhat sad.
8. Monster of the week doesn’t work – Frank Underwood schemes, backstabs and screws over a different politician each episode. No one gets revenge on him and there seems to be few consequences for him.
9. Dangers of creative mass production. I was a fan of the concept of producing an entire season at once, just for the novelty. But many of the problems listed above are first season problems, but usually not this bad. By releasing the entire season at once, the writers and showrunners gave themselves no feedback to rely on to tweak the later half of the season, like other shows do. It shows.
I’m not sure if I would watch a second season. But I did learn a couple of things from the first one.