by Rob Boylan
Beginning at 3am last night, Netflix went live with the entire first season of their biggest original series to date, the slow-burning political thriller House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and Kate Mara. In a wild departure from the history of television as we've known it since it began, all 13 episodes of season one are online right now.
Spacey plays Frank Underwood, the House Majority Whip who has been promised a nomination for Secretary of State for lending his political support to the newly elected president. When the President-elect backtracks on the promise and nominates one of Underwood's rivals, a devious revenge scheme is hatched, using an eager cub reporter Zoe Barnes (Mara) to do his bidding in exchange for access and dirt to help rise her star among the Washington Herald elite blocking her path.
Because of the late start to the series, starting at 3am, I only took in the first episode so far and came out with mixed thoughts. Directed by David Fincher, who also is one of its producers, my immediate reaction was that it us great and awful almost in equal measure, Spacey's character especially.
Underwood is cut from the old Southern tough SOB cloth, the kind of character who can see the next 10 moves on the board before you even know you're playing chess with him. But I'm not sure I'm buying it just yet. Spacey's blustering faux South Carolina accent takes you out of the moment, leaving you with the sense of watching an actor act instead of watching a character live his life, and the High Fidelity-style moments of breaking the fourth wall to narrate in metaphors only make it worse.
Mara, however, could find a breakthrough role here if they only give her enough screen time to work it out. Though it was her younger sister Rooney that rose to the top more quickly (largely thanks to roles in Fincher films, The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), it's always been Kate who seemed more interesting on screen, even in her small roles in Brokeback Mountain and 127 Hours. Her character will grow as the season progresses of course, but I'm left wanting more of her just from the pilot.
Whether or not they end up getting the politics right is another thing, but there are twelve episodes left. Even The West Wing had growing pains.