I usually enjoy television that challenges me. A show that I either like or dislike is very easy to quantify and usually gets dropped in the appropriate box, alas no pun intended. However shows that not only get me thinking, but also have me shift my feelings depending on the content are much more interesting.
I observed some of this with the Amazon Prime pilot The After, and I find myself in similar territory when it comes to the second season of a House of Cards, now available on Netflix. As previously noted I’m a huge fan of the original British production of the show and as much as I enjoy Kevin Spacey, Ian Richardson gave a magnificent performance as Francis Urquhart.
The US version has much more grandiose goals, a wider set of characters and various situations stretching what was essentially a four hour show into a 13 hour season in Season One. It worked surprisingly well and I had great hopes for the second series.
I try to watch shows organically. What I mean by that is I watch them as I would as a viewer rather than forcing myself to watch something just because I should. And I think it is instructive that it took me a month to watch the second season of a House of Cards. Undeniably I am looking forward to the already announced third season, but there were times when I lost the momentum of the show.
Why, is of course the big question and ultimately I believe I have the answer. In the British version of House of Cards, Francis Urquhart doesn’t directly get into negative situations with those senior figures that he is trying to manipulate. He gets his hands dirty with various underlings as it were, but when it comes to the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members, Urquhart is always their supporter and friend. In the US version, Spacey’s Underwood has far too much conflict with the President and other officials. He is seen for the scheming manipulator that he is, rather than the Machiavellian figure behind the moves from the British show.
That’s a shame because it is the weakest part of the US series. The introduction in Season One of the character Raymond Tusk, an industrialist and long-time ally of the President, along with foreign policy issues to do with China that are expanded upon in Season Two, doesn’t ring true even though it forms the basis for a vital part of the show. Part of the problem I had with the set up is that Tusk is played, well I might note, by Gerald McRaney. There’s nothing wrong with the performance, however on a personal note McRaney is always going to be Rick Simon to me from the classic, and under appreciated, Simon & Simon CBS show from the 80’s. Maybe that’s a little unfair, but that’s my reality of watching the show. Your mileage, as it were, may vary.
Spacey is terrific and he and Robin Wright make an awesome power couple. The trials and tribulations that the characters go through make for generally interesting viewing even if I’m bored occasionally of Claire Underwood.
Ultimately it all comes together in a definitive conclusion and sets everything up for Season Three. I just wasn’t as thrilled on the journey as I had hoped to be.
- Wallace Poulter