There are no two shows that could be any more different than the moody atmospheric drama of Netflix’s House of Card and the second season of HBO’s millennial comedy. On one had you have a show about politics kind of a bastard child of The West Wing and Damages, a show about a politician who makes Machiavelli seem simplistic. On the other, we have a show about frivolity, a group of young women in New York, their careers, their relationships and their selfish pursuits of both. What makes these two shows so interesting is their ability to play off well worn television tropes but at the same time they do well to not be broad.
House of Cards: Netflix made a bold entry into the original programming arena with this tense political thriller. The pilot helmed by David Fincher sets the tone for a murky foreboding visual style, it feels as if as we follow Spacey’s Congressman Frank Underwood we are following a dark force of nature more than a politician but maybe I am just being kind of politicians. Netflix made a novel decision to release the entire season of House of Cards at once which I breezed through over the period of four days. Robin Wright and Kate Mara play the female leads in the series in very interesting ways. As the wife of Congressman Underwood we see a woman stuck between her own ambitions, the ambitions of her husband and an intense need to escape her entire existence. Zoey Barnes played by Kate Mara is a beginner journalist who takes ethical shortcuts to rise in her career and becomes embroiled in the Underwood’s scheme. The other performances in the show are very solid. Corey Stoll* is wonderful as a troubled but mischievous congressman, Michael Kelly as The Underwood’s advisor and bagman, and Constance Zimmer** is very good as a cranky journalist and rival to Mara’s Zoey Barnes. What really makes House of Cards so interesting isn’t the twisting and turning plot or the solid acting but it’s ability to travel very well treaded ground in a novel and different way.
Girls: I’ve written about Girls before on this blog, and as the second season of Girls is four episodes in I think I have really figured out why this show makes news. Many people compare Girls to Sex and The City and I think that is a mistake. I believe that Sex and The City has informed Girls creator Lena Dunham in many ways but I think that if that is the comparison that your brain comes to maybe you are missing the point. To me, Girls embraces what cable television is all about, making no attempt to appeal to a broad audience. In many ways it is like Louie or Curb Your Enthusiasm it has this dramatic tension that leads to comedy that I liken to watching a clown car hurtle into oblivion. Comedy is about creating an intellectual tension and then dispersing that tension with laughs. Watch the characters in Girls make the horrible decisions that they make while being buffoons is not a normal way to show young women in film and television. Generally we want to see a show where people are either much dumber than us or much smarter than us doing dumb or smart things, but in Girls we get to watch generally smart people making dumb decisions because they are too young to make smart decisions. Dunham’s real talent is to allow these situations to play out, without the standard amounts of pathos. I can totally understand why a 35 year old guy who hate this show, it’s about vapid young women who make all the wrong decisions. What makes this show worth a second look is the honesty of the writing, it allows these wonderful characters to fall into traps of their own creation.***
*Played Ernest Hemingway to comic perfection in Midnight in Paris
**Played Dana Gordon in Entourage, yup you all got an Entourage reference. I feel dirty now.
***Also the Donald Glover as a republican story arc was really well done and Glover really continues to show how talented he is.