I'm just beginning the second season and after season one I have to say, I'm lukewarm on the series. First, I think the performances are outstanding, especially Kevin Spacey. The stories are interesting and the scripts are well done. It has pace, thrills and deep character development, and I've even gotten use to Spacey breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly.
So why am I not over the moon about it like so many others seem to be? It took me a while to figure that out but I think I've got it. I don't like (or even sympathize) with any of the characters. None of them. I think maybe I'm supposed to, but that causes me a problem. I have no one to root for so I just don't care about the situations they get themselves in.
I'll watch the rest of season two and enjoy it, but not love it. Does anyone else feel this way?
I'm not enjoying the series as much as last year. I think the scripts are a tad weaker and the storylines a tad more unbelievable. To me there are two great things about the series, Spacey's character and his bizarre relationship with his bizarre wife. I know he'll become president one day but I'm interested in watching how he does it, in the same way I enjoyed having Shakespeare's Richard III (another sociopath, like Frank Underwood) tell the audience what he was about to do and then do it.
i have to say I think Kevin Spacey is excellent in this, an outstanding performance from an outstanding performer. I also think Robin Wright as Claire is terrific, but I still just don't care enough about the characters--any of them--to feel invested in them or the show. It's like every time something meaningful happens I'm like. "Okay, so?"
I'm only still watching at this point because of Spacey.
I'm not sure whether everyone realizes that HoC is a remake of an excellent BBC TV series, circa 1990. It has the same author, Michael Dobbs, and the same producer, Andrew Davies. Kevin Spacey character, Francis Underwood, was played in the original by late Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart. Spacey's characterization is excellent but still not a patch on Richardson's more human but not more humane FU. Dobbs wrote three novels and it is right to expect the third one will be screened next year. Although the Americanization of the story is expertly done, if the viewer comes to the US version after having seen the original first, a feeling of unease (haven't I been here before and felt better?) sets in. Of course, 24 years of technology ensures that the production is slicker and more lavish, but the essence of the story suffers inevitably.
At the time, the production was criticized for making Francis less human and more evil than he was portrayed in the books. In the books, his self assurance crumbles when he is alone. He swears and smokes extensively. His ascent to power also is depicted as an unstoppable dark force, ruling him although he is a ruling servant, once the certain momentum put in place. The relationship with his wife (much more prominent in the US version) and especially with the young journalist was portrayed as more warped. Robin Wright is much better than the British actress of the UK version. The character is also given more prominence in the US production.
Shakespearean soliloquies and asides to the audience are intentional and work as well in the US version as they did in the original. Those are not in the books, which are written in third person throughout. They are meant to accentuate the theatricality of the story. Like a message to the audience - you are watching a morality tale not a documentary or roman à clef. The absence of a well-intentioned but naive Prince Charles figure counter balanced with a noble but scheming fictionalized Diana of the UK version also takes off the edge from the story in the US version. Gerald McRaney's Tusk (a cross between Buffet and Cheney) is meant to replace those but it does not have the same resonance, excellent though is McRaney's characterization.
As for the despicable main characters, the scripts are essentially about grey-to-black people committing grey-to-black acts. I don't think we are expected to sympathize with the characters. Instead, we need to get a feel of the consequences of total disregard of conventional morality. It is essentially a Faustian story. Those who are really good at exercising total freedom and giving into their basest desires (Underwoods, Tusk, Feng) win ostensibly, only to meet the inevitable end with nothing left of their humanity including any trace of their souls. Those who side with the evil (Stamper, Zoe Barnes) but let their conscience bother them will lose their souls in a purgatory without ever gaining either the power they seek or experience the pleasure the pure evil enjoys. The lighter greys, the wannabe goods (Russo, Gillian Cole, Vasquez) also have to switch sides or leave the scene, alive or dead. There is no room for half-a-gangster.
Also note how sex is always an indicator of the character's evil gauge. Underwoods, Feng and Tusk abandon themselves into the desires that would be considered perverted by the mainstream audience (Tusk's sadistic killing of the noisy bird is also a sexual act). Meechum's inebriated slide into a ménages à trois with the Underwoods is supposed to be an indicator that even the straightest arrow among us, those who are most loyal and unquestioning of the status quo, have the same dark lust just under the skin waiting to burst into the surface if the inhibiting barriers are removed without consequence. By the way, mock-incestuous relationship between Zoe and Francis is underplayed in the US version in comparison to the UK version. There is so much taboo-breaking that mainstream American audiences would allow.
So, David, to use your final remark, I can say that I am loving the show for its (sometimes sensationalist) intricacies, but I cannot say that I am enjoying it. In this respect it is a little like watching a car crash. I hate what is happening but I cannot take my eyes off it.
Wow! What an amazing analysis of the show. You are spot on with everything you said and I agree with it all. I knew there was another version and it was based on a book or books. Sure is interesting to see the contrasts. you have a tremendous grasp on the material. Thank you for that.
I too think the production of the U.S. version is outstanding. The performances are top notch, especially Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. And I find the story fascinating, being someone with a passing interest in watching the train wreck that is a political system of late. It is what has kept me returning this long. But I doubt any further.
From the beginning of the show I understood we were not supposed to like Underwood, that was made clear in the very first scene, and for me therein lies the problem. Because I can not become emotionally invested in him (or any character in the show) I just don't care what happens to them. Without some one to root for, it's like watching with one eye closed. Without that, for me, with the second season done, no matter how well done, I doubt I'd be back for a third season
This is a problem for me with the current crop of acclaimed television programming coming out of cable and the non-network venues. Many of those shows are about despicable people doing despicable things. The Walter Whites and the Don Drapers out there. Clearly there is an appetite (an audience) for that, but for me I equate that with watching an episode of Jerry Springer. I just don't care about them and it just becomes depressing to watch and numbs me to the action. (my I don't care attitude when important characters die).
I find characters that are people who are trying to better than they are to be far more fascinating, even when, especially when, they get it wrong but still try to do it right. Raylan Givens in JUSTIFIED and just about every character on THE WALKING DEAD, for example. Even the Russian spy couple on THE AMERICANS. They are trying to do whats right at least for what they believe in. They are all people up against strong odds, fighting, scratching, clawing to get it right and failing, a lot. For me that's good drama. Another good one is BANSHEE, (I can't recall the character's name) but the lead who pretends to be the sheriff, he's a thief and only there to get his stolen jewels and his girlfriend back, but there are times he's presented with doing the right thing, the human thing, and he has a choice not help or help, but he can't help but step up to the plate even when he doesn't want to. To me, that's a character worth watching.
Thanks, H. Ruhi. Fun stuff.
Thank you. A few comments before we move on from the subject.
I find The Walking Dead downright objectionable. It is very much the glorified satisfaction derived by 'justified' killing of 'the other' stripped to its bare bones. In some ways, an unintended confirmation of what is mainly wrong with the US today. I can write a book about just the Freudian analysis of it. As for Justified, to my reading, Raylan is not the clear-cut character you assume him to be. Both in Elmore Leonard's stories and Timothy Olyphant's characterization (he just carries his character from Deadwood to this one effectively) Raylan chooses to kill too easily. He is the laid-back version of Mike Hammer character of Mickey Spillane books, without the sexual hang-ups. Or, perhaps, like a low-fat twin of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) from Searchers - a warrior that has to keep the war going as he has no place in a land of peace. I haven't watched Banshee or The Americans, so I won't comment on those.
I'm more interested in the complexity of a compromised individual than an Honest Joe trying to do wrongs right in a world gone bad. This is mainly because I don't believe in the latter. For me The Sopranos was the dark side of the American dream. The Wire was the dissection of the downfall of its main institutions (a season for each one - from drugs to politics to newspapers). Not a great fan of Mad Men but Draper is a poster boy of the real execs of image makers of the 60s.
I don't want a fairy tale to entertain me. I want a mirror to the society. The Shield, for all its implausibility, is more about today's copshops than Ed McBain's 87th Precinct and, perhaps, more entertaining.
And for Breaking Bad, it was the masterpiece of the last couple of years. Like The Sopranos, it lifted the benchmark of TV production to new highs.
Ultimately, though, all of those are morality tales. We are yet to return to the nihilism of post-war noir of Jim Thompson or David Goodis, or the cynicism of the Italian thrillers and Hollywood 'crime pays all right' anti heroes of the 70s.
Francis Underwood will not survive, of course. If the enemy outside doesn't get you, the Trojan horse that you'd built will enter your own castle. Yet, it is fascinating to watch his rise and fall. He is a zombie of sorts waiting for the redneck to hunt him down with glee.
Thank you for the discussion. Stay well.
Interesting discussion. I generally don't care for shows/books that emphasize the seamy and despicable side of human nature. I avoid crime shows of that type because the protagonist is involved in violence against others and the violence is the reason for the show.
Now the SOPRANOS I caught almost against my will. There is a deplorable fascination with organized crime. What saved the show for me was the fine acting and script.
As for MAD MEN: I love this show. It dissects the American love affair with money and success. Don Draper is a very flawed character but neither he nor the others are without saving virtues. They are round characters and absolutely fascinating.
I agree, violence for violence sake doesn't appeal to me. HOUSE OF CARDS is very well acted and scripted, but for me that's not enough to keep my interest. The characters have to pull me in emotionally so I react when bad (and good) things happen to them.
As I said above. I think what makes Tony Soprano different was the therapy sessions with Melfi becasue it got audiences inside the character. He was actually a reluctant mobster, going into the family business because he had no choice. Everything he does is for family. Something everyone can sympathize with even though the does it all the wrong way from societies point of view.
Thanks for writing back. I love discussions like this.
I can see where you get your vision of the THE WALKING DEAD, but I don't see it that way. To me, the zombies don't represent anything more than the MacGuffin of the story. A foil for how people (good and bad) act/react to survive. Each of the characters have gone down really bad rabbit holes but always with good intentions at least to their own moral code. (even the Governor, who was bad). The title says it all The Walking Dead aren't the zombies (well they are) but it refers to the survivors as well.
I also agree completely about Raylan Givens He's an out of place/ out of time gunslinger who shoots too fast, reacts too quickly and too violently and flagrantly disregards the rules. But its for a good greater than himself. A character on the show recently summed it up best I thought when she said, "You're the kind of guy would would rush into a burning building to save someone without thinking twice. The problem is you probably started the fire." I loved that assessment. Aslo I think Boyd Crowder is brilliant. Another all out bad guy who's operating to save himself and his family by his own moral code.
As for BREAKING BAD, I haven't seen it, just going by what I've heard and read.
I am glad you brought up THE SOPRANOS thought. A show I binge watched and adorned. Tony to me is a good example of a bad character who does bad things, a true sociopath, but was endearing to audiences because at his core he was a father figure just protecting his families, his own and his mob crew, and struggling with how to be a better man than he is or his father was, hence all the therapy sessions with Melfi. David Chase showed that beautifully with the ducks in the pool in the opening episode. Brilliant. How can you not love a guy who's excited about baby ducks in his pool. Gandofini and Chase kept that nuisances throughout the show. So different than the Underwood in his opening scene.
I don't need Pollyanna stories, and I like dark stories, but to your point where you seek realism, I want escapism. I worked in corporate America. For guys like Underwood and Draper. It's like watching a day at work. Ugh.
I prefer to have my heroes be deserving of my sympathy. Raylan and Tony Soprano are, Underwood and Draper and crew are not. Just personal taste I guess.
Speaking as both a veteran of Washington and as a reporter, this show is awful, except for the acting. Nothing on that program could ever happen in real life, and millions of people will think government and media are actually like that.
The original British series, starring Ian Richardson, absolutely nailed it. As did the comedy series, Yes, Minister, which I regard as essential viewing.
Just so I understand correctly--you mean they're not?
Just kidding, ducks and runs.
I'm not in love with this series...but I definitely do like it. You hit a great point and I couldn't really put my finger on it, but none of the characters are really sympathetic and some of the relationships strike me as weird--like the Underwoods. It's not relatable, and they don't explain how they developed this insane balance. It's hard for me to buy that no matter how ambitious the couple may be.
Basically, it's a soap opera, not a drama.