Being overrated is the worst thing that can happen to a TV show.
Like a child praised when he acts out of turn, your standard overrated series is likely not only to develop an inflated sense of ego, but to trend toward the very behaviors one would wish to discourage. Selfishness, an abundance of volume, and tantrums are to be expected.
“There are two kinds of pain,” read the bus stop posters and magazine ads for season two of Netflix’s smash original series, “House of Cards,” which dropped in its well-angled entirety on Friday. The words refer to useless pain and pain that helps us grow or learn: that which does not kill us, etc.
But showrunner Beau Willimon and the rest of the cast and crew behind “HoC” were torn between their own two pains before filming round two of the Machiavellian D.C.-filmed-in-Baltimore soap opera.
Should they embrace their copious buzz, overenthusiastic award attention and, ahem, reviews and dive into the unfulfilling yet
addicting world built up in their first 13 episodes (useless pain, though possibly some pleasure instead if embraced in the right way)? Or should they heed the criticism that the show was cool daggers and lousy cloaks? Should they deal with the useful pain when people pointed out that “Cards” was politically juvenile, that it read like a bad playwriting workshop, that it was somehow naive about its own cynicism?
The answer, naturally, is neither. This is a problem child that has found new ways to misbehave.
Whatever I thought it would be, I never would have guessed that season two of “House of Cards” was going to be boring. The first season bumped its head on believability and scraped its elbows on the halls on power, but oh, it was never boring. Even those of us who groaned kept hitting play on that next episode later and later into the night.
Season two, however, arrived under the mistaken impression that it is a great show and the correct impression that everyone cares a lot and has been talking; it dawdles and dallies at all the wrong moments. I lost interest five or six episodes in and only completed the baker’s dozen so I could talk to you about them.
Don’t worry: I hate spoilers more than you do.
I shan’t be ruining any of the plot twists that Frank and Claire Underwood deal with (or cause). The trailers make it clear that Kevin Spacey’s Frank, essentially Richard III with his “Time to Kill” accent, ascends to the office of vice president, so we’ll take a snake in the grass as a given. But if you really want to endure the endless backdoor shuffling and cheap tabloid headlines that make up most of the meat of Netflix’s original programming so far this year, have at it.
It’s as if Willimon heard the note “more realistic politics, please” and thought “Well, an endless trade disagreement with China is realistic.” It’s as if someone said “more human drama,” but what got through was “have a character go to church.”
A relatively early attempt at West Wing-esque shenanigans shows just how bad “Cards” is at parliamentary procedure; it is far stronger at rubber-meets-the-road animal bargaining, but this time out, most of that is interminable shifting related to shady PAC money — a timely topic no doubt, but just not one worth buying at this particular market.
What once was at least stately has become mere stasis. One thing I’ll give this season: it allows its darkest and most violent act to hang over it like an umbrella, largely unremarked but dripping everywhere it doesn’t show. Most of the time, however, we’re doing quorum counts of viewers who still care.
Bored. Bored. Robin Wright is walking around looking like Lady MacMarc Jacobs, there are now not one but two branches of government to abuse, and, oh dear, but the fictional unemployment rate is above nine percent. Yikes. So why could we hardly care less?
Well, for starters, the feminism sucks, like full-on sucks. The women on this show can rely on each other to be weak, petty, and easily manipulated, usually at the expense of each other.
Meanwhile, there’s a love affair you won’t care about, tawdry revelations you won’t care bout, and not nearly enough of the man you DO care about being as creamily awful as he should.
Saying Spacey is the best part of “HoC” is like saying ice cream is the best part of a sundae; it’s beyond obvious–the entire thing is structured around it. But even the ice cream doesn’t do what you want this time.
Spacey doesn’t get enough of those velvet blinks and Mona Lisa smiles to the camera, in part because he isn’t sublimating our noxious fears into pragmatic efficiency the way TV’s Underwoods really, really should.
“Cards” round dos tries to correct being unrealistic by being calm and tries to undo relying on twists by keeping the twists, but demoting their fun factor. The result is an unnatural show without the naughty kick that kept it worthwhile, yet when I called the series a problem child above, it was a forward-handed insult. Problem children have potential.
It’s a statement for how far the series has brought us that season two’s creepiest plot turn is also the one that seems the most believable. No more on that, however–I don’t want to feed the beast.
Here’s the thing about the Netflix model: ooh, is it working. Who hasn’t been talking about “HoC” this past week or so? And love it or hate it, ya gotta have Netflix to participate in the discussion. Just imagine the noise, and I use that word deliberately, when “Orange is the New Black” returns.
The problem is, with offerings like season two of “House of Cards,” the phrase “flash in the pan” practically leaps to mind. In two weeks, if people are still talking about it, it’ll be in the context of “Man, I can hardly believe how excited we got for that…”
It’ll keep us pressing Play, it’ll bubble at the water cooler for a few minutes, and then it will fade away until the next thing we can’t wait for to be gone.