Did you smell that? The smugness, the false deference. She thinks I can be bought with a pair of tickets. What am I? A whore in post-war Berlin salivating over free stockings and chocolate. What she’s asking will cost far more than that!
– Congressman and House Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) speaking of the President’s Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) in House of Cards
While the Indian community was getting its jetties in a hopeless twist over the Vishwaroopam ban, I, like millions of Americans, glued myself to Netflix starting this past Friday to watch Season- 1 of the new TV series House of Cards.
After subjecting my tired, old eyes to nearly 13-hours of viewing, I finished all 13 episodes in the wee hours of Sunday.
In an unusual move, Netflix put out all 13 episodes of Season 1 in one go at midnight Friday.
A Netflix original production, supposedly made on a $100-million budget, the 13-part series features Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood, a ruthless Democratic Congressman who’ll do anything for power and position.
The series is based on the novels by British writer Michael Dobbs and the UK mini series by Andrew Davies.
You want to know what’s in Frank Underwood’s arsenal as he, setbacks notwithstanding, relentlessly pursues his power-lust fueled ambition?
Sex, lies, betrayal, blackmail, adultery, abuse of power, greed, corruption, threats, cozying up with lobbyists of multi-billion dollar corporations, leaking information to favored journalist and, hold your breath, even murder are the arrows in Frank’s political quiver.
In short, Frank presents a devastating picture of American politicians at their power game in Washington.
When the President reneges on his promise to offer him the position of Secretary of State, Frank is incensed and sets forth his modus operandi henceforth:
We’re no longer bound by allegiances. We serve no one.
From then, it’s a series of political maneuvers, to undermine adversaries and boost loyalists even if they’re hopelessly unworthy like Peter Russo.
Nothing is beneath Frank in his unbridled pursuit of power. Opponents are just blips to be swatted away, threatened into submission or purchased in a quid pro quo.
Robin Wright (Sean Penn’s ex-wife) plays Frank’s wife Claire Underwood, the head of a non-profit organization.
Her short coiffed hair perfectly in place, a cold ambition on her rarely smiling face, Claire is the perfect complement to her husband.
Theirs is an unusual marriage, with lots of love but also lots of leeway for each other’s extra-marital dalliances.
Claire is no less ruthless than her husband.
A ruthlessness she demonstrates when she dismisses her office manager Evelyn’s objections to the firing of 50% of the staff: “We are a charity but not for our employees.”
Kate Mara is the ambitious young reporter Zoe Barnes and Corey Stoll plays the alcoholic, cocaine-snorting Congressman Peter Russo.
House of Cards is a slick and lavish production.
It has the feel of a movie, particularly when you watch it on a big-screen television.
The photography and lighting are first-class.
The writing crackled in the first two episodes but after that it fell into the merely “decent” category.
Still, every episode manages to hold your attention for its ruthless display of power lust, naked corruption and raw ambition in Washington.
It’s not just scheming politicians at play here.
Young female journalists unhesitatingly whore themselves for the sake of exclusive stories!
The episodes are about 50-60 minutes long.
Kevin Spacey is a fine actor and he performs with aplomb as Congressman Frank Underwood trampling everything around, laws, regulations and people.
I enjoyed Frank’s frequent asides, when he turns to the audience and delivers some biting remarks and insights about an important event or person.
Among the other cast members, I liked Corey Stoll for his portrayal of Peter Russo, a deeply flawed Congressman from Philadelphia addicted to booze, broads, dope and beholden to Frank.
But I find it hard to believe that a mere House Majority Whip wields so much power in Washington.
In House of Cards, the Speaker, House Majority Leader and the Senators come across as bit players in the great Washington political drama.
That is surely nonsense!
However manipulative Frank may be, he’s still just the Majority Whip.
Of course, there’s an Indian around.
With 1.4 billion of us in the world, there’s bound to be an Indian everywhere.
Even in a high-profile American TV series.
Sakina Jaffrey plays the U.S. President’s Chief of Staff Linda Vasquez.
Just in case you didn’t now, Sakina is the daughter of cookbook writer/actress Madhur Jaffrey and actor Saeed Jaffrey.
In my not so humble opinion, Sakina’s portrayal of Linda Vasquez, the Hispanic Chief of Staff, wasn’t great.
But Sakina manages to get decent screen time. I can’t remember precisely but Sakina’s probably there in every episode.
House of Cards vs Borgen
Smart people will quickly compare House of Cards to Borgen, the popular Danish TV political series.
The single biggest difference between the two is that the principal protagonist in Borgen, Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babett Knudsen) is a woman.
Borgen is more subtle in its approach – none of that flaunting power, brazen ambition, constant breaking of laws or the crude my way or the highway stuff you see in House of Cards.
Although Birgitte is the main character in Borgen, her character is not larger than life like Frank’s.
And to my drooling eyes, Katrine Fønsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is a 100-times, million times sexier journalist compared to Zoe Barnes!
My Verdict – A Steal
House of Cards is a gripping series on power play in Washington.
You can watch it on TV (via Roku or one of the other set-tops), iPad or stream it directly off the Netflix site to your PC.
I watched six episodes on the PC and the rest on the telly. Take my word, the television experience is far better.
I’d unhesitatingly say that House of Cards is a great bargain for $8.
You not only get 13-episodes of House of Cards but once you exhaust the series you can watch over 25,000 movies and TV programs before canceling the Netflix subscription at the end of month.
House of Cards is a welcome break from the usual Bollywood and Kollywood drivel!