|Kevin Spacey as Congressman Francis Underwood|
HOUSE OF CARDS (2013 Internet series). Season One. Various directors.
In this re-imagining of the British mini-series, House of Cards (and its two sequels), Francis Urquhart, who becomes prime minister, is replaced by Francis (Frank) Underwood, a Washington congressman who hopes to become vice president and who plots, schemes and murders to achieve his goals. His wife, Claire (Robin Wright of Message in a Bottle), is similarly ruthless in her dealings and is not afraid to go up against her husband when she needs to. The biggest problem with this American version is that the British series' main thrust -- that Urquhart applies the murderous ruthlessness of olde English politics to modern times -- is completely lost, and what you're left with is a fairly typical look at Washington wheeling and dealing with a rather sociopathic lead character. House of Cards takes thirteen episodes to wrap up its first story arc, whereas the original took four, and therefore was more concise, tense and to the point. Whereas Urquhart, as portrayed by the magnificent Ian Richardson, was an almost mythic force of evil, Underwood is more human; Kevin Spacey (Swmming with Sharks) is quite good, but he can't compare to Richardson. A lot of changes have been made due to the change of country and locale, but some things remain: the young female reporter (Kate Mara) who enters into a professional and sexual relationship with Underwood; and the coke and booze-guzzling fellow (Corey Stoll) who is cruelly used by Underwood when the latter backs the former's attempts to become governor [this character was actually a publicity man in the original]. Urquhart's wife didn't appear much or have much to do until the final episodes of the British series, but in this she's front and center from the first. Initially Claire seems like a much warmer person than her husband, but when she has a colleague fire eighteen employees, and then fires her immediately afterward [instead of firing all nineteen of them herself[ you get the sense that something's rotten in this gal as well. The acting is first-rate throughout, and I was particularly impressed by Al Sapienza as a union leader, Constance Zimmer as a reporter, and Gerald McRaney as a billionaire nuclear power plant guy. The sex scenes between Spacey and Kate Mara are kind of gross because Mara generally looks like she's twelve years old. Episode 8 [scripted by Beau Willimon] hints at some homoerotic hanky panky engaged in by Underwood in military school, but it seems dragged in, and somewhat homophobic, as if homosexuality is something you grow out of. If the character is gay or bisexual it isn't explored in the first season.
Verdict: Whatever its flaws, this is undeniably compelling and very well acted. ***.