House of Cards - worth the hype?

GRANT SMITHIES
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2014
House of cards

CREEPY BUT COMPELLING: House of Cards is exceptional television.

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Round, blank boyish face. Dead eyes. You see him and you just don't trust the guy.

There's something ineffably creepy about Kevin Spacey. Something detached and distant, cold and submerged, like an iceberg. It's there in every great role he's ever played, from emotionally frozen office worker Lester Burnham in American Beauty to sadistic serial killer John Doe in Se7en, from ruthless mob boss Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects to delusional psychiatric patient Prot in K-PAX.

It's there, too, in House Of Cards, rendered with typical underlit moodiness by David Fincher. This coal-black political thriller is a perfect vehicle for Spacey, a man well aware of his own chilly charisma. "I think people just like me evil for some reason," he told Entertainment Weekly last year. "They want me to be a son of a bitch." Best to give the people what they want, and House Of Cards does just that. Spacey plays pathologically ambitious congressman Francis Underwood, who's double-crossed out of a job as Secretary Of State then decides to use the corpses of his political foes as a ladder to climb even higher. Any doubts about Underwood's latent aggression fade in the opening minutes of Episode One when he calmly kills a neighbour's injured dog. With his hands.

Betrayal, revenge, murder, addiction, bare-faced treachery, clandestine rooting - there is much to love about this show, including a fine central cast. Golden Globe-winner Robin Wright is Lady MacBeth ruthless as Underwood's wife, Clare, and Kate Mara hits just the right mix of naivety and steel as investigative reporter, Zoe Barnes, who realises it's useful to both parties if she ends up in Underwood's bed. As a political love triangle, it's a good deal more compelling than mayor Len Brown serving hips to Bevan Chuang in the Ngati Whatua Room.

But it's Spacey who commands most attention. An elegant South Carolina sociopath, he's magnetic, oily, vindictive - a moral vacuum in a US$2500 suit. He's so good, you can almost forgive the show a few currently fashionable conceits such as breaking the fourth wall to address the viewer directly.

Is this kind of online/offline show the future of television? Are we entering a world where "content providers" will merely dump each new season on-line in a single day so you can gorge yourself with it like a DVD box set? As is TV3, with its new video on demand service, 3Now, which will make available all 13 episodes of series one on Sunday. Really, who cares?

However viewers might choose to consume it, House Of Cards is exceptional television.

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