House of Cards, Season 1

I think I’ve watched a decent number of politically-bent shows… actually, wait, no, I have not. I’ve just watched The West Wing, and damn it if Aaron Sorkin didn’t completely sweetly color my view of how our nation’s capital works. In my mind, up to this point, it’s a lot of walking, talking, quipping, and fact-dropping. Also Martin Sheen is the real President, and Obama is just a guy who makes great speeches.

I jest. But it’s really, really easy to think of the White House in this manner, because The West Wing was really, really easy to watch and even easier to like. House of Cards is not so glib or fanciful, nor is anyone on the show a hero, but it is infinitely juicier. And cuss-ier.

The first season of House of Cards is basically old hat at this point. I know I watched it almost a year after it took Netflix by storm. But I wanted to wait until the dust/feathers/tar had settled, and judge it on its own merits, rather than the merits bestowed upon it by an overly-excited internet. (That’s why I’m just getting to Game of Thrones, Season 1 right now. Please stand by.) Fortunately, it did not disappoint. I hold very few other works in this lives-up-to-the-hype category; the only other I can think of at the moment is Inception, but that should give you a pretty good idea of where I stand on exaggerated and/or timely recommendations. Anyway, the reason why it did not disappoint is because, obviously, Kevin Spacey does not disappoint. It’s not in his nature to do so. He’s an acting machine, a force to be reckoned with, a magnet on the big and small screens. I like him so much that I found it hard to hate Majority Whip Frank Underwood even when he (spoiler alert) murdered a guy.

And that’s when it occurred to me that House of Cards really got it right. Maybe not in the details; who knows if congressmen are this devious and evil and cunning and ruthless in their path to the White House. But unlike most other political shows, House of Cards isn’t afraid to portray every single person as a true politician. Even the journalists and the fundraisers. They’re all liars and gamers. They get things done by pawning responsibility on others, taking credit when things go well, and destroying the evidence when it doesn’t. Once you’re within Washington, D.C. city limits, you resign yourself to the individual sport of Washington, D.C. There is no “I” in team, but there is most certainly one in the name of the town.

The non-Kevin Spacey players on this show do a superb job, too. Kate Mara is incredibly likable, even if her character Zoe Barnes acts like a teenager trapped inside of the body of a talented journalist. And Peter Russo’s downward descent back into addiction is all the more sad because of Corey Stoll’s sympathetic, normal-guy face. But the only person really competing with Spacey, magnetism-wise, was Robin Wright, as Underwood’s wife Claire. Wright is absolutely stunning, and if you don’t believe me, google her and see what sorts of impeccable clothes they dress her in for this role. She always looks perfect, ready to wow, and ready to throw down some sort of politely disguised insult. Her character is steady, accepting, and evil, just like her husband’s, but her emotions are more carefully checked. I can’t wait to see what happens to her next season.

I feel very strongly that the theme song for this show is one of the best, too. It’s not musically mind-blowing, nor is the title sequence revolutionary, but it fits the show exactly as it should, unlike others that change the tone dramatically. The orchestra looks back to Washington’s past, but layering guitar chords on top of such pomp remind us that Washington is more modern than we think. And it never feels out of place in the episodes; sometimes it comes at the top, and other times there are a few minutes of show before it plays. It doesn’t interrupt the flow; in fact, the triumphant horns at the end only build the excitement for the political intrigue to come.

Okay, enough nerding out. Watch if you haven’t already. I’m probably the eighth person to say that to you, anyhow.