Reading through the advance reviews for House of Cards‘ second season — which, the Internet’s snow-day demands notwithstanding, looks like it will still premiere at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time on February 14 — there’s one clear difference: Critics have realized they don’t have to take Netflix’s flagship show seriously anymore. House was the show that was going to change TV forever, to prove that networks were obsolete relics and it was possible to deliver quality content right to the consumer, OTT-style. Except what it turned out to be was quality TV-by-algorithm, a hollow simulacrum with all of the signifiers but none of the depth. And for the binge-watching on which Netflix builds its brand, that’s good enough. It’s not worth dissecting one episode at a time, and probably fares better without giving its audience a week to ponder each implausible plot twist. (Turns out Orange Is the New Black, a more genuinely original show that’s far less insistent on its own sophistication, is the show for that.) But with expectations properly calibrated, it goes down easy, at least based on the first four episodes made available to critics.
House of Cards, Season 2 reviews:
Willa Paskin, Slate
House of Cards really is designed to be binge-watched, by which I mean consumed so quickly there is no time to taste all the garbage we are guzzling down alongside those delicious and sneering putdowns. Apportioned out every week, dissected for plausibility, judged on execution, House of Cards would barely be worth your time. But slammed down in a week or two? You’ll only notice the aftertaste when it’s all done.
James Poniewozik, Time
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 dishes up more red meat that’s anything but cruelty-free.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
It was, to say the least, underwhelming — as was House of Cards as a whole, once the novelty of binge-viewing and the prestigious glow cast by Spacey, Fincher, at al wore off. It wasn’t a bad show, but nor was it the instant classic it very clearly styled itself to be, and the longer it went on, the emptier it felt. It won a handful of awards across various groups, but Spacey himself never won — not even the Golden Globe you would have expected to be engraved with his name the moment he was cast — and by year’s end, unheralded prison dramedy Orange Is the New Black had usurped it as the Netflix critical darling.
Alison Willmore, Indiewire
[T]he first four episodes of the season feel much more like 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 confidant.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
The familiarity at play in the early episodes is, for better or worse (depending on your take) where the show has settled. It can be overly dramatic, perhaps too neat and simplified (especially for an immensely complicated place like Washington D.C.), and it still sells husband and wife power-at-all-costs couple Frank (Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) Underwood as a little too oily and reptilian for anyone’s good…. But it’s also a joy to watch. When the series hits on all of its cylinders, it is precisely the show everyone fell all over themselves about.
Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly
[T]herein lies the show’s fundamental problem that must be righted: The Underwoods have no worthy opponents. There are only so many scenes of duping, playing, and ruining that one can endure without wanting the tables turned…. Somebody needs to chop off Francis’ head — and this season will be an artful failure if no one even comes close.
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture
I nitpick House of Cards only because it carries itself with a magisterial swagger, as if it’s somehow more sophisticated and altogether respectable than Scandal, a similar but vastly less pretentious drama that’s even more absurd on a plot level and yet filled (improbable as it might seem) with much richer, more emotionally complex characters.
However you cut it, House of Cards is an irresistible feast: deliciously acted, written with both authority and wit by series creator Beau Willimon and directed (in the case of the first two new episodes, by Carl Franklin) with a confidence and sophistication that, for all that the television landscape has changed in recent years, is seldom matched elsewhere on the small screen.
I also find it hard to offer unqualified praise to a show that can soar in one minute and then, two scenes later, makes me feel like I’m rummaging through the discount table of thrillers at an airport book shop.