Check out the previous installments in Becky Graebner’s dissection of House of Cards. Spoiler Warning!
May 29: Why We Love to Hate Politicians
June 5: Can ‘Evil’ Sometimes Be Good?
House of Cards was a slam dunk for Netflix. The name is practically an entertainment buzzword. The show is so widely known that a spoof was made, “House of Nerds,” for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The video featured Washington, D.C., superstars like John McCain, Jay Carney, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, all fighting with Frank Underwood to get the best seat at the dinner. The dinner crowd loved it — and so did the House of Cards fans.
Obviously, this show carries some sort of magic in its pocket—it wins over audiences left and right. Heck, half of Capitol Hill, which the show portrays in a not-so-flattering light, knew enough about it to laugh at the spoof at their “Nerd Prom.” So what is it about this dark horse of a show that has made it so great?
Pure genius on many levels.
1. Characters that are too good at “being bad”
Southern gentleman Frank Underwood is the first piece of genius in this show. I’ve pointed out in previous posts that no matter what Frank does, you still fall for his South Carolinian charm and charisma. He’s smooth-talking and has a soft side. He has the audience eating out of his hand and then, WHAM, he’s slapped with the title of “murderer.” Oh well, you still love him and you still want him to succeed. You just cannot hate Frank — his quips, smartass dialogue, and honest facial expressions make the audience laugh even in the darkest moments. Frank is the perfect bad guy who continuously baits the audience only to have them coming back for more.
2. An Academy Award-Winner from South Orange
Kevin Spacey. Give that man an award. I’m not sure I will ever be able to view him as anyone other than Frank Underwood from here on out. Honestly, I’m surprised he took this part. Can you imagine that phone call with his agent?
“Hi Kevin, we have a part for you in a series exclusively for Netflix. It will all be shot and released all at once. Yes, the whole series, Kevin. No, it will only be available on Netflix. It’s a play on a British show called “House of Cards.” No, I haven’t seen it…have you?”
This man is an Oscar winner, yet he decided to take a gamble on Netflix and this concept to release everything at once. Thank goodness he did because his acting makes House of Cards what it is. His ability to make Frank Underwood so cool in the midst of such darkness is the pièce de résistance of the House of Cards masterpiece.
3. This country may claim to hate Washington, D.C., but they secretly love the skinny on what happens here
(Ficticious) Frank made fun of (real life) Washington during the “House of Nerds” spoof—and he’s 100% on target.
It must be so hard to write jokes about a town that already is one. Democrats, Republicans, the House, Congress…you all came together to make this spoof; that’s what real bipartisanship looks like. I may lie, cheat, and intimidate to get what I want, but at least I get the job done. So I hope some of you were taking notes…
I couldn’t have said it better myself. The government is deadlocked, constantly bickering, and the media wars over “Right, Left, Red, BLUE” have given the majority of the country a bad taste in its mouth. Washington, D.C., is seasoned with lies, fear, and he-said-she-said.
Although tired of the discord, Americans are still very interested in what their government is doing in the swamp. Americans have a fascination with Washington, D.C. It runs one of the most powerful nations in the world but it is also a circus of a town. It is a prime example of a train wreck — something terrible you just can’t help but watch.
House of Cards is a perfect balance of D.C. crazy and entertainment. People enjoy watching because they like feeling like they have a handle on what goes on in D.C and are “in” on the D.C. secrets. Right now, the government is going through a therapeutic cleanse; the media is telling the country all about its activities in the shadows from spying and monitoring, to targeting certain groups for tax-exempt status, security breaches, and Secret Service scandals. People are tired of government let-downs. They want answers; they want change. If the real government isn’t going to give them what they want, Frank Underwood will. At least he can give them some hope that the “sludge will keep moving through the pipes” in the midst of elephant rides, juggling acts, and lion tamers.
4. Freedom to watch, when you want
Americans love having the freedom to do what they want: eat ice cream for breakfast, sleep until noon, get a B.A. degree in “Muppet History” or “Weapons Systems of Classic Sci Fi.” They also like watching what they want on their many electronic gadgets — whenever they want. This is what is so clever about the release of House of Cards’ entire season in one fell swoop. Fans are able to watch the show at their own pace, whenever the fancy strikes.
This release strategy was also an ingenious marketing tool for Netflix. The House of Cards name is thick in the air around the water cooler — and friends and work colleagues are inquiring where they can watch it. Not everyone has a T.V. or cable, but most do have a laptop and an internet connection (internet is in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right?).
This decision to go “online” vs. “cable” was another stroke of genius. Netflix went the “progressive route” and targeted the Americans and their ‘ol ball and chain — their computer and their internet addiction. This strategy to opt for the internet over cable was risky. Why limit viewership to people with Netflix accounts? But Netflix nailed its audience once again; Americans love free stuff.
Signing up for the “free trial subscription” is easy. It is possible to watch the show in its entirety before the trial expires; but you might succumb to the wiles of Netflix and stay on as a paying customer. Netflix is chock-full of cool shows and movies… smart move, Netflix.
In fact, bravo, Netflix. Well-played and good show. I’m sure even Frank would give you a round of applause. Ok, maybe not…