Recently in this space I wrote about Brett Martin’s wonderful, forthcoming book, “Difficult Men,” about the way that cable television caused an entertainment revolution at the turn of the century by overtaking the movie industry when it came to cutting-edge material designed for a sophisticated adult audience.
Shows such as “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” made going out to a neighborhood multiplex seem like a waste of time and money since most of the movies there have focused on the teen and twentysomething demographics for the past decade.
Now the revolution has moved beyond cable television and into the realm of Internet download services.
Last week, when I started watching the thrilling 13-hour made-for-Netflix series “House of Cards” the idea of tearing myself away from it to go to the movies to see something like “The Internship” seemed ridiculous.
“House of Cards” is a political thriller from filmmaker David Fincher (of “Fight Club” and “The Social Network” fame) loosely based on a BBC series from the 1990s.
Kevin Spacey stars as South Carolina U.S. congressman Frank Underwood who is furious to be denied his appointment as Secretary of State when a new president is elected — a president he worked very hard for as a candidate.
Underwood hides his fury but then begins plotting his revenge — against the Secretary of State appointee; the president’s chief of staff; and anyone else who gets in his way. He is greatly aided by his powerful wife, Claire (Robin Wright), who runs an environmental non-profit but isn’t above using it for very nefarious purposes.
Giving the material a delicious black comic spin is the device of allowing Underwood to deliver asides directly to the camera, taking the audience into his confidence and making us his partners in crime. Direct address to the camera by a film or TV character can be dicey, but Spacey makes these moments work like a charm.
“House of Cards” has a smart, up-to-the-minute feel similar to Fincher’s “The Social Network” — it’s exciting to see a piece of entertainment that deals with something important rather than the latest adventure of a bunch of comic book characters.
Spacey is matched by Robin Wright who has a dark, commanding presence that mind remind you of the devilish politician’s wife Angela Lansbury played in “The Manchurian Candidate.”
Fincher and his production staff cast the project creatively, looking to the New York theater for such wonderful but under-exposed talents as Maryann Plunkett, Reed Birney and Sebastian Arcelus in key roles.
Subscribers to the Netflix streaming service got the first crack at “House of Cards” when all 13 episodes became available on Feb. 1, but I enjoyed the show last week via the Sony DVD that was released June 11. You can also now access the show via Amazon and other downloading services.
“House of Cards” is a godsend for those of us who miss the long-vanished era of contemporary political thrillers like “Seven Days in May,” “Advise and Consent” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”