UPDATE: While critics debate the merits of the new season of “House of Cards,” President Obama has a simple request, via Twitter: “No spoilers, please.” POTUS has joked in the past that he wished Washington operated more like the Netflix show. And with all episodes of Season Two arriving today, he doesn’t want the online chatter giving away too much. Check out his Tweet, below, plus our review roundup of the new season.
EARLIER: Netflix’s alternately dark and campy original series “House of Cards,” starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as the nefarious Underwoods turning D.C. on its head, is returning for an all-episodes second season this Valentine’s Day Weekend. Variety dropped its review early a couple of weeks ago, but now more publications are weighing in on the new season. A review roundup, below.
But it’s Claire, and the Underwood marriage, that makes
“House of Cards” more than just a better-than-average addition to the
genre of Antihero Drama Being Used to Establish a New Fiefdom in the Television
Landscape (see also “Nip/Tuck,” “Dexter,” “Mad
Men,” “Vikings” and “Klondike”).
Still and chilly where Frank is ever-seething, Wright’s
Claire is a character we’ve never seen before. She’s a political wife who seems
neither scorned nor thwarted, though in actuality she is both of these things.
But she is also plagued by doubts, and menopause; her decision to remain
childless has seesawed her from one season to the next.
Season 2 is as immersed in the battlegrounds of governing as
“The West Wing” was: entitlements, Chinese cyberespionage, anthrax scares,
parliamentary procedure, government shutdowns. But that Aaron Sorkin series on
NBC ennobled politics. “House of Cards,” which was adapted from a 1990 British
series of the same title, eviscerates it. And while the second season picks up
where Season 1 left off (the tagline is “The race for power continues”), this
continuation is possibly even darker and more compelling than the first.
Underwood still turns from the action to address the
audience in the style of Shakespeare’s Richard III, but his cynical asides are
not as clever as his underhanded actions. The conceit worked better in the
British original, which was more arch and satirical and closer in spirit to
“Kind Hearts and Coronets.”
The American version takes itself more seriously: Its tone
is a double bass, not a flute.
The meat, however, is positively succulent.
That’s season 2 of House of Cards on a plate. (At least, the
four episodes I’ve seen in advance.) It is the same show you saw last season,
the same weaknesses and strengths intact, but, as it makes clear before the
first hour is over, every bit as brutal and sanguinary. If you were dubious
about the first season, you probably won’t want to go back. If it won you over,
round two–the full season of which goes live on Netflix 12:01 a.m. PT on Feb.
14–dishes up more red meat that’s anything but cruelty-free.
Like Frank, “Cards” has a very high opinion of
itself. It wants so much to be An Important Drama (despite having a fairly
shallow take on both government and its main character) that it’s far more dour
than a show about a conniving political mastermind should be. Frank’s asides to
the camera are often the only humor of note, and much of that is undercut by
the clumsiness of the device itself, which makes sure to spell out as much of
the subtext as is possible in a 10-second witticism. ABC’s “Scandal”
also deals with backstabbing and murder in and around the White House, but it
doesn’t have the pretensions “Cards” does, and thus is free to tell
similar stories in a loopier and more entertaining fashion, and also in such an
exaggerated tone that you don’t constantly stop to question the logic of it the
way “Cards” unintentionally invites the audience to do.
The first season of “House of Cards” achieved the dual feat
of instantly emerging as a first-rate drama while simultaneously being
seriously overrated – riding the “Netflix reinvents TV” angle and juicy
inside-the-Beltway bits to front-page coverage. No fools they, season two generally
proceeds with more of the same, exhibiting a show with abundant strengths –
foremost among them Kevin Spacey’s showy performance as an unscrupulous
politician – but also underplayed weaknesses, including a continuing failure to
present its scheming protagonist with equally matched foes. Dense and smart,
“Cards” is still partially skating by on reputation – and for Netflix’s
purposes, that’s good enough.
I think House of Cards was a heavily buzzed show that
suffered from not being the greatest thing ever and there might have been a
“meh” backlash by the time those lists were formed.
But here we are with season two approaching and, based on
the early episodes made available to critics, House of Cards is pretty much the
same show it settled into less than midway through its first run. It’s
entertaining and cruises along with a strong pulse. There’s a core mystery and
American politics is mocked, appropriately, for being a two-party hustle of
recrimination and separatism. Dramatically, there’s much to be pulled from that
Based on the four episodes made available for advance
review, “Cards” is still as handsomely crafted and marvelously acted
as ever — even when a smirky Spacey is chatting at the camera. And it still
exudes that atmospheric chill, largely because so many scenes are bathed in
shadows or filmed at night.
On the other hand, these early episodes don’t quite provoke
the same kind of adrenaline rush as last season. That could be because Frank’s
“Survivor”-like back-stabbing is beginning to feel a bit repetitive.
Or it could be because we’re missing the magnetic presence of Corey Stoll, who
was blazingly brilliant as doomed congressman Peter Russo.
And the first four episodes of the season feel much more
like that — a show, not in the sense of form but as entertainment, filling
with some juicy developments as well as some slightly ludicrous ones, delivered
with more of a wink by Frank than before. It may be darker, but it’s also less
heavy — “House of Cards” seems to have shed some of the blanketing
burdens of importance that weighed down the first season, and takes more
pleasure in its own deviousness, with Frank as our slithery guide to hell or
the Oval Office, whichever comes first, and the audience as his primary