Thursday, March 17, 2016

Review: House of Cards

Netflix' House of Cards is an American remake of a UK miniseries. But it's really a 21st century rip-off of Richard III. Clever idea, but they get it wrong. There's more to Shakespeare than cynicism and soliloquies.

Richard III only won for a short time, then God handed him his hunchback ass and sent him looking for a horse. Frank Underwood keeps winning and its damned depressing. He wins the White House, gets away with murder, gets plugged in the liver and bounces back like a Satanic Energizer Bunny Rabbit. The show's title is House of Cards, of course. This implies a reckoning and a fall. At this point, it'd be like hearing Hitler died in a nursing home in Argentina.

Richard III was a sociopathic creep, but the man was fun at parties. Hell, he enjoyed being evil. He grooved on it. His approach to the audience was, "Watch this, kids! I just killed that sobbing lady's husband -- now watch me take her to bed!" Alex of A Clockwork Orange is an obvious descendant. But Frank doesn't have that kind of fun. Yeah, he gets his one-liners and snarky asides. But he's wounded, brooding and bitter. And no damn fun at parties.

It strikes me that Shakespeare was gob-smacked at the idea that evil people could lie to your face. Their immense powers of bullshit put normal, non-evil people at a temporary disadvantage. It's not that good people were stupid and evil bastards were smart -- it simply never occurred to all the unsuspecting nice folks that Richard III, Macbeth, Iago and other lying bastards could lay waste to their lives with a smile. Once the good people figured it out, they quickly made up for lost time in the head-chopping and stabbing department. But the good people in House of Cards are idiots. Frank Underwood plays chess and they play checkers.

Richard III was not a brilliant strategist. The man had one move -- the sucker punch. But that never works for long. All the suckers quickly wind up on the floor or learn to keep their guard up -- suckers no more. Richard III framed his main political threat as a traitor and had his goons slice, dice and drown all the rival claimants to the throne. Once he wins the crown, he's kind of like the dog who finally catches the car -- now what does he do? He breaks his promises, commits fresh atrocities, pisses off his former allies, pisses everybody off. He doesn't know when to stop -- so the entire pissed-off nation of England gets together and stops him. Frank Underwood, on the other hand, is a Machiavellian mastermind with millions of kick-ass moves. Nobody stands a chance. He wins, they lose. After awhile, it just gets boring.

So, Iet's say the creators had followed Shakespeare's recipe. It'd've been a more interesting show -- that would have ended after one or two seasons. Franks doom would come soon. Maybe a blood bath culminating in a military junta and death squads. Or a metastisizing scandal leading to Impeachment, resignation, prison, distrace and the loss of future speaking engagements.

What we have instead is a smart show that wrote itself into a corner. Too bad. The Bard isn't around for script doctoring. And I'm fresh out of ideas.

No comments: