Let me just begin by saying if you haven’t yet watched Netflix’s first original series, “House of Cards,” you should use this snowed-in weekend as the chance to start. It may not be a lesson in policymaking, but it does provide some chilling dramatic entertainment.
The show follows the power struggle of politicians, journalists and non-profit foundations in present-day Washington D.C. Kevin Spacey plays Francis Underwood, a southern gentleman and Congressman who wants more for his career than a seat in Congress. His wife, Claire, heads a nonprofit, and she has lofty goals for what should be accomplished. Their marriage works almost like a business partnership, and if their deals go sour, so do others’ careers.
Kate Mara plays Zoe Barnes, a young journalist looking for the break that makes her notorious and respected. The concept for her character is a little cliché: the privileged, female journalist desperate for a story break is sexually deviant, and finds the dangers of breaking stories thrilling. Everyone is interested in striking a deal, bettering their careers, and there isn’t much thought for the collateral damage. Your inner cynic may be inclined to believe this is an accurate portrayal of what politics is like in D.C.
One of the interesting things about the show's characters is that none are purely villainous, but none are exactly good, either. It’s not always clear whom you’re rooting for when everyone seems interested in boosting his or her own status or agenda. Francis Underwood talks to the camera a lot to explain to you that this is just how things are in the world, and you have to make the best of it. Underwood is charmingly evil, but I’m not sure I can get into the talking to the camera thing. It feels very season one of “Sex and the City,” and HBO eventually cut out that awkward camera-talking.
While the major themes and characters of the show are worthy in their own right, “House of Cards” also presents a new age of television. Netflix created this show and allegedly two more to premiere this spring, for online streaming only. They respectfully gave viewers the entire season at once, and I say respectfully because I’m growing tired of networks dictating my viewing schedule. I don’t have a TV, I have a crazy schedule between school and work, and I know I’m not the only one. Letting viewers decide when they’ll watch is a no-brainer.
The model presents a few problems, though:
What will Netflix do for revenue without commercials? Obviously they have options. There is already some glaring product placement, between everyone having Apple products or the camera lingering on the Pop-Tart box in the refrigerator a little too long, but I don’t know that I would mind a few well-chosen commercials, like how AMC advertisers always tailor their commercials to the style of Mad Men during airtime. If they choose not to add commercials, perhaps viewers would be willing to double the price they pay each month for quality shows.
Does this pose a threat to network television? I’m almost positive it does. We’re developing an expectation to have TV when we want it, and even though it’s been in slow development since TiVo debuted, networks may now have to change the way they promote primetime line-ups. This could also affect how many shows are commissioned. Have you ever noticed that they insert new or bad shows in between the good shows? The programmers do that in hopes of tricking you into watching their station longer.
Is this the beginning of the end of DVDs? Netflix basically put stores like Blockbuster out of business, but now I wonder if DVDs as a medium are becoming obsolete. I honestly can’t imagine anything worth waiting for a DVD in the mail for when I could pay to stream it on Amazon or just watch another readily available movie from Netflix.
There may be other problems with the online original series trend as well. I’ve heard some people complaining they felt it was creepy that Netflix was able to take the data of what their subscribers had been watching and rating, and they used it to make a show. But I don’t see that as such a bad thing right now. After all, I do love Kevin Spacey, political drama and being able to binge on television.
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