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Friday Favorite – House of Cards

house of cardsThe backroom realities of politics have been done well on screen numerous times now, whether in principled thrillers like Thirteen Days, idealistic masterpieces like the West Wing, or frighteningly accurate black comedies like The Thick Of It. One of the great classic British series, though, is House of Cards, based on a series of books written by none other than Maggie Thatcher’s advisor, Michael Dobbs.

The original serial, broadcast in three seasons during the early 1990s, is a master class in political manipulation. Government Whip Francis Urquhart, a longtime veteran passed over for promotion by a new Prime Minister, decides it’s time to take his fate in his own hands, and proceeds to adjust the circumstances of the government to better reflect his ambitions. It’s staggeringly good –– sometimes downright frightening to those familiar with political operations –– and since the original writer Dobbs was known as the ‘baby-faced hit man’, one gets the sense it’s rooted in reality.

Here’s why it comes to mind today: the Americans have remade the series, and they haven’t messed about. Kevin Spacey is leading a 26-episode version (split, as I understand it, into two seasons), and the first 13 episodes are all being released today. I’m genuinely looking forward to it, and while it will be difficult to live up to the original, they may just have done it. The big question is whether the particular quirks of a Parliamentary government (and its press corps) have been successfully translated to Capitol Hill.

But there’s one significant difference about the American House of Cards: it has been produced entirely as a Netflix original series. The streaming service has reportedly spent upwards of $100 million to produce this flagship drama to rival HBO and AMC… and the only way to watch it is to subscribe (at least until a possible DVD release).

The implications of this are fascinating. The head of Netflix has pointed out that, for a show released through this medium, ratings don’t matter; they don’t have to worry about a large number of people tuning in at a specific time, they can allow it to build an audience. Because Netflix is a subscription service (not at the mercy of ad revenue) time can be taken. A preview, perhaps, of things to come.

Ironically, it’s a preview I’m probably going to miss… because I don’t subscribe to Netflix –– or at least, I don’t yet. And why would I? Delivering television shows exclusively over the internet? Quite unseemly. What next… will the revolutionaries demand that books be sold exclusively in some electronic format, available only online? Such notions are ridiculous and will never stick.

What’s that, you say I’m being sarcastic? You might think that –– but I couldn’t possibly comment.