The original “House of Cards” grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. In November of 1990, when the BBC original debuted in the U.K., I’d been living in England long enough to have become enthralled with their political system, which my native Australia had largely adopted. Having by then spent over four and a half years in London, I not only understood how their parliamentary system worked, but also through newspapers and television news got to “know” most of the players.
Part of the reason the BBC version resonated so soundly was Margaret Thatcher’s own loss of power. “House of Cards” was televised at the same time that an internal party coup resulted in the Iron Lady (Oh, how I wish she’d been called “The Ferrous Female”) being deposed as British Prime Minister. Here was a television show about a cunning and conniving politician’s rise to become the British Prime Minister airing just as Thatcher was terminally undermined by her own contemptuous Conservative Party MPs. Their behind-the-scenes whispering campaign culminated in Thatcher getting monumentally FU’ed, and on Nov. 28 of that year she ceased being prime minister. In those pre-DVR and pre-Internet days, we television viewers could only watch one episode at a time and so we were spellbound. In those weeks of November and December 1990, we watched a drama on TV about the Machiavellian machinations of Francis Urquhart (the hero’s name in the British original) be mirrored with Thatcher’s own political demise. We didn’t need to doubt whether or not what we were watching was realistic, as before our very eyes we’d seen a prime minister deposed in real time. At that time our information systems were limited to newspapers, weekly magazines and chats with our mates down the pub. We lacked the modern-day Internet with its wall-to-wall dissection of everything in existence — and social media? Well, Mark Zuckerberg was still only 6 years old.
Fast forward 23 years and a second political FU arrived to entertain us. Of course by this time I’ve crossed the pond, become a U.S. citizen and learned a wholly new political system whose checks and balances can all too often stymie political change (I’d blame that first and foremost on Congress spending more time getting reelected every two years than on there being three separate but equal branches of government).
*SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD
The second season of the U.S. version of “House of Cards” was released on Netflix on Feb. 14, and while that date might be better known as one for lovers, this “House of Cards” first couple, Francis Underwood and his wife, Claire, are not so much mutual lovers but mutually in love with their collective quest for power. Of course with Valentine’s Day also kicking off the long weekend into Presidents’ Day, there was plenty of opportunity for binge viewing all 13 episodes in time to see the swearing-in of president #46 on that holiday Monday — a crafty scheduling FU to presidents past.
Over that weekend I consumed all of the second-season episodes across three sittings, and thus was able to avoid any spoilers and reviews that had been published. But once I’d finished indulging my FU feast, I delved online only to be disappointed. Too many commentators seemed to relish in dissecting each plot point and explaining why it couldn’t possibly have happened. Byron Tau on Politico explained “What ‘House of Cards’ gets wrong about money in politics” and Brett Arends of the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch doubled Tau’s five purported errors to list his “10 Things ‘House of Cards’ Gets Wrong.” Elsewhere on the web, Cooper Allen at USA Today chimed in with his “’House of Cards’: Five Unrealistic Moments,” and many others did too, but why?
Why does everything have to be completely plausible? Sure, maybe it’s unlikely a real-life Francis Underwood could become president with such a large body count behind him, but what happened to suspension of disbelief? What happened to “Don’t try this at home”? Have we now reached the stage, with everyone in the world now connected through social media and therefore able to share their opinions — plus anyone (like me here) opining on the Internet — that we all have to be budding grouches and tear everything we see and hear down? Of course there are some premises on “House of Cards” that defy logic (so do many of the actions of the real politicians who inhabit Capitol Hill), but surely we haven’t gotten to the point where it’s no longer possible to just sit back, relax and enjoy a wonderfully crafted (and in Robin Wright’s case, superbly costumed) piece of drama that’s just provided us a wonderfully entertaining 13 hours?
I can’t wait for season three and Underwood’s comeuppance — can you?