The US political drama House of Cards (Netflix) has been eclipsed by the real thing. None of the current candidates for president are murderers (so far as we know), but what a cast of crazies and vagabonds! Donald Trump uses a debate platform to boast about his genitalia. Hillary Clinton could end up in jail over her use and abuse of an email account.
And Ted Cruz is the first presidential candidate to negate the traditional parody of a Halloween face mask: he already looks as if he’s wearing one. Rolling Stone compared Cruz’s features to “pieces of a waterlogged Reagan mask [sewn] together at gunpoint”.
How can President Frank Underwood compete with that? He tries his best. At the beginning of this new season he’s running for re-election against the odds. His opponent is willing to do anything. His wife has bolted to Texas to start up her own campaign for office. Russia wants war. Underwood, portrayed with demonic intensity by Kevin Spacey, carves a path through them all – slicing and dicing, burying his dagger in anyone dumb enough to turn their back.
The thrill of watching him get away with it is the show’s entire premise. Although by episode 6,428 it’s starting to wear thin. It’s not that House of Cards isn’t still well plotted and acted: it’s tempting to throw a sickie and spend the day at home watching it all in one go. No – the problem is that I’ve lost any sympathy for the lead character. Put him in jail, already.
The writers made a mistake when they had him fling a lover under a Metro train in season two. Thereafter he wasn’t a man; he was a devil. A devil with little depth and scant charm. House of Cards invites its viewers to watch a psychopath get away with murder – again and again and again.
The classic British series spiced things up with witty Jacobean dialogue and a lead character who was genuinely seductive. “Call me Daddy,” whispered Francis Urquhart, the original villain, to his beguiled quarry. I’m afraid I could never call Spacey’s Underwood “Daddy”. I’d rather call the cops.