Despite being bankrolled by a company that make their money distributing other people's content, Netflix have sunk $100m into House of Cards and it's indistinguishable from prestigious dramas you'd expect from the likes of HBO. Anyone expecting a shoestring budget will be delighted by the production values, and it's clear that "Chapter One" benefits from having renowned director David Fincher behind the camera. He brings his gift for composition to the show and makes the camera-work look effortless, while imbuing it with an atmosphere and look comparable to The Social Network. I haven't seen beyond this episode at time of writing, but it'll be interesting to see if Fincher's standard-setting hour is maintained by some of the less feted directors involved—like James Foley (Glengarry Glenross) and Carl Franklin (Devil In A Blue Dress). I'm also looking forward to seeing if Joel Schumacher brings something different to the mix, or is happy to follow Fincher's example for the sake of continuity.
Spacey's theatrical background also helps, as both version of this drama take inspiration from Shakespeare (particularly Richard III), and Underwood occasionally stops to break the fourth wall and address the audience watching at home. This is always a tricky device to pull off, but House of Cards treats it exactly right. It never feels off-putting to suddenly have Spacey talk to the camera; instead, it makes us feel involved in his thought processes. It also stirs a feeling that we're companions and confidants in Francis Underwood's machinations, which brings us closer to the character.
Overall, I found House of Cards utterly engrossing thanks to Spacey's brilliant performances and Fincher's slick direction. I wasn't completely sold on Beau Willimon's script at times, and it's still too early to feel an attachment to the story and non-Underwood characters, but this was a very strong start to a show Netflix should be deservedly proud of.
As you'd perhaps expect from a TV blogger, I enjoy and savour the communal experience of this art form. I like to discuss episodes in the gaps between them, and believe the anticipation of the next episode is half the fun of long-form television. What you have here is basically a thirteen-hour movie, to be consumed in a variety of different ways. But when you're sat bloated after a weekend's marathon, did you truly enjoy House of Cards the same way? Is it fun to know you have to wait at least a year for more episodes, and that you can't discuss it with anyone without first vetting them about their viewing schedule?
I don't know. We're in uncharted territory here. I know some people genuinely love being able to watch something as and when they choose. I can see why, but it feels impatient to me, and I don't think stories benefit from being rushed. You'll get storytelling indigestion.
1 February 2013 / Netflix