Thursday, 7 February 2013

House of Cards

Watching over everything: Frank Underwood played by Kevin Spacey

Francis Underwood, expertly played by Kevin Spacey, infects whomever he touches. He exploits any situation to his own gain and, like a chess grandmaster, always has three moves in mind, and a couple up his sleeve for good luck. He anticipates and reacts. Success is not so much something he works towards, but something he expects. And no one can argue with confidence like that. They are not permitted to.

Similarly, 'House of Cards' permeates it's audience. This seems symptomatic of modern American television - the box-set effect - where audiences prefer to store up episodes, sometimes whole seasons, and gorge over a weekend in one mammoth sitting. It almost seems as if the traditional weekly episodic schedule acts as a promotional tool for the eventual DVD release. It's how we wish to consume. And it can become addictive.

Netflix have cut out the middle man and foregone the week-to-week model. As of February 1st, if you are so inclined, you can press play and 13 hours later come away living and breathing cut throat Washington politics. This is why I characterise the show almost as an infection. I came away after a few hours with the mental swagger of Underwood. Bolstering about my flat thinking I can overcome any situation with Machiavellian malevolence. A sudden desire to start wearing clean white collared shirts and talking in that tempered South Carolina drawl that Spacey accidentally dips in and out of.

The same can be said whenever you suspend reality for that length of time in one sitting. Whilst I won't be joining the CIA any time soon, I did come away from a weekend of 'Homeland' playing espionage in my head. My axe-wielding days are long behind me now, but the August Bank Holiday of 'Game of Thrones' got me as close to LARPing as I ever wish to come. And this is just after two seasons - I started drafting legislature and composing speeches to the DNC after the third run through 'The West Wing'. I'll never dramatically put on a jacket in the same way again.

Thankfully it's really more passing infatuation than overwhelming infection, and now I've gobbled up all 13 episodes I can go back to regular life. However Netflix's concept has left me with a distinct feeling of seeing the future of media consumption in it's infancy. As an ageing curmudgeon trapped in the body of a mid-twenties reality-escape-artist I am fearful of change, but I do hope this idea catches on. No artificially inserted moments of tension half way through an episode to keep you thinking over an ad-break; No fixed episode length that forces mid-season instalments to play more like a bullet-pointed list of plot points rather than a natural progression of the story, and no having to bite your lip while you ignore months of TV spots, trailers and talk-show appearances to keep yourself pure for the box-set. If this is the way TV is headed then i'm excited. 

However like the pawns being fondled by Francis Underwood's menacing touch, I feel like I might be being played - A well produced, intelligent show, with no commercials, seemingly no artistic compromise and the involvement of heavyweights like Spacey, David Fincher and Eric Roth? And for £6 a month on a cross-device platform from my phone to my projector? Where's your move, Netflix? What's your play? I must get back to The Hill to devise a stratagem. Call all the Congressmen! Quickly, I need Season Two!

House of Cards is available in HD on Netflix. £5.99 a month subscription, with a one month Free Trial.

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