Years of televisions shows depict the backdoor deals, scheming, sneaking, and the less-than-ethical business that is politics. House of Cards is not new in this regard, but it is new in a myriad of other ways.
If you’re one of the some 27 million Netflix subscribers, you have access to the Netflix original television show House of Cards. In a world where most of us are forgoing cable in favor of the much cheaper alternatives – online streaming sites such as Netflix and HuluPlus – every show we’ve watched has still originated from television. However, that’s changing with the exponential growth of web series such as The Guild and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
What makes this show different than a web series is that it was produced more like a regular television show that would air on a premium channel, but with more wiggle room. All thirteen 50-something minute episodes were released at once, raising questions about the likelihood of binge-watching and the implications it could have for future Netflix original shows. The company was able to raise enough money at once for a second season, a 26 episode guarantee, and because it doesn’t have to deal with network and cable executives, there’s no worry about being canceled due to low viewership.
This show isn’t filmed in a green-screened studio. It is high production, valued at around $3 million an episode. It makes great use of multiple, intricate, detailed sets. Houses, offices, big galas and protests sets do not come cheap. The show makes full use of its location, though filmed in Baltimore (which makes this Marylander extremely happy), viewers are placed directly in the heart of Washington, D.C. – with constant references to being “on the hill” and being in close contact with the White House.
The show is tense and quiet, a political thriller in every sense of the word. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey, with a fantastic South Carolinian drawl) is enthrallingly devilish in his quest for more power in government. Passed over for Secretary of State in the pilot, he is faced with another term as House Majority Whip but with the help of his equally terrifying, strong wife Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), they take Washington, D.C. by storm
You could watch one episode a week on your own time and try to uphold the facade of actually watching it on a television station, but if you’ve got the time, why not just watch a few in a row… Netflix’s auto-play makes it fast and convenient. By the time you’ve realized one episode’s ended, the next one’s already beginning.
Similar to premium channels HBO and Showtime, House of Cards doesn’t break for commercials, and some episodes feature nudity and foul language (though, much less than you find on even the tamest Girls). And unlike traditional television channels, no ratings are available the next day to give a less-than-accurate depiction of its viewership. Netflix has given no indication that it is worried about the show flopping. As long as you, the Netflix user, continue to shell out the $8 or whatever the cost of your membership per month, it doesn’t matter to them whether you watch it or not.
House of Cards could start a television revolution. Ties to advertisers for monetary support are slowly being cut. Television networks might start realizing they have to step up their game, now competing with online sites that are easier to access, for equally high quality content. Who knows where this type of programming will be in five years, but we do know something will change – it has to.
This writer is on episode eight – yes, some binge-watching occurred this weekend – and is thoroughly enjoying the dramatic lives of the politicians that run this nation.