With the third season of Netflix’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning drama scheduled for release on February 27, it’s a great time to get caught up on the career of predatory politician Francis Underwood. We won’t spoil any details for those who have yet to stream the series, but since the season will — in the tradition of Netflix programming — be released in its entirety, it’s probably a good idea to catch up quickly.
What’s the premise? A wily and ambitious congressman utilizes his considerable influence to climb his way up the political ladder, manipulating colleagues along the way and leaving unsuspecting victims in his wake.
What’s it like? Frank Underwood is not a nice man, but he is, for better or worse, the show’s central figure. He manipulates, wheedles, gladhands, seethes, rants, negotiates, and plots behind closed doors, all to fulfill his personal vendettas. In that sense, the series is something like a fusion of The West Wing‘s political gamesmanship and Boardwalk Empire‘s ruthless misanthropy. If Nucky Thompson ran for Congress and decided he wanted some payback for being overlooked for a cabinet position, it might look something like House of Cards. With more tommy guns.
Where can I see it? Both season one and two of House of Cards are available on Netflix, of course, but they’re also available on Amazon and Vudu. The only place to see season three when it premieres, however, will be on Netflix.
How long will it take? Both seasons clock in at 13 hourlong episodes (plus or minus a few minutes), so you can easily run through the whole lot of them before season three debuts. If you’re highly caffeinated, you might even be able to get through all 26 episodes in a single, dedicated weekend.
What do the critics think? Both seasons one and two of House of Cards are Certified Fresh at 84 percent and 85 percent, respectively. While Kevin Spacey’s icy demeanor and brutal tactics as Frank Underwood initially left some critics feeling a bit icky, most echoed the sentiments of IGN’s Roth Cornet, who wrote, “The production is as sleek and well executed as any you would expect from this caliber of talent, and a match for most high-end cable programs.” The series’ first season also made history when it became the first online-only program to take home a Golden Globe (Outstanding Lead Actress for Robin Wright), and Spacey himself just picked one up back in January for his performance in season two.
Why should I watch this? The first and foremost reason to queue up House of Cards is two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, who plays Frank Underwood with a quiet, diabolical menace that simmers just beneath the surface of his smarmy demeanor. He’s not the only one who shines, though; Kate Mara is deceptively cunning as ambitious journalist Zoe Barnes, and Robin Wright’s work as Underwood’s equally clever wife Claire is outstanding. Beyond the acting, there are also some fine folks in the director’s chair, including David Fincher (who previously worked with Spacey on Seven and won an Emmy for the pilot episode), James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross), and Allen Coulter (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire), just to name a few. Thankfully, House of Cards puts its wealth of talent to good use, as series creator/writer Beau Willimon deftly weaves together Underwood’s political machinations, his marital struggles, and various subplots in service of a densely plotted revenge narrative. The series’ cynicism and slow-burn pacing may not appeal to everyone, but we dare you not to be hooked after the first episode.
What’s my next step? House of Cards is actually an American adaptation of a 1990 British miniseries of the same name, which was itself an adaptation of a 1989 novel by Michael Dobbs called — you guessed it — House of Cards, so those would be logical places to start. Dobbs also penned two sequels, To Play the King and The Final Cut, which were again adapted into UK miniseries, and since it appears Netflix isn’t necessarily drawing from those works for subsequent seasons of its own series, you should feel safe checking them out without worrying about spoilers. If you blow through the show and you’re looking for some similar fare on television, you might enjoy The Good Wife, The West Wing, the UK series State of Play, or even Scandal. Political thrillers are popular on the big screen, so you’ve got a rich variety of films to choose from, including The Ides of March (also written by Beau Willimon), All the President’s Men, State of Play (based on the series mentioned above), Advise and Consent, and, if you need something a little lighter, try In the Loop or Bob Roberts.