Valentine’s Day is often referred to as a Hallmark holiday, but many other couples had different cards in mind on Feb. 14, 2014.
House of Cards, that is.
Netflix released the second season of its Emmy-winning political thriller on Friday, helping to spearhead the newly forming trend of exclusive web series. Netflix original prison drama, Orange Is the New Black is another fine example. The reboot of Arrested Development with Netflix’s Season 4 was also a long-awaited hit that kept fans of the previously canceled series happy.
Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey), our relentless, sociopathic narrator, returns in the second season of House of Cards, a rung up from where we left the Congressman in Season 1.
Connecticut Resident Appears in Season 2
Speaking of the House, WFSB’s Dennis House (Face the State) informed readers on his blog that Watertown, Conn. native Brian Flaherty, a frequent Republican analyst on his show, has landed a role as an extra in Season 2 of House of Cards. He even has a small speaking part toward the end of the season, according to House. Flaherty, the current vice president of public policy and external affairs for Nestlé Waters North America, is also well-versed in politics, so he should make a nice addition to the series set in Washington D.C. He served as a state representative in the Connecticut General Assembly for Watertown, Middlebury and Woodbury from 1989 to 2003 and as the Deputy House Republican Leader for nine years, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Netflix Vs. Networks
On television networks, you wait week by week for new episodes and sometimes longer for mid-season breaks, but Netflix releases the entire season of each of its original dramas all at once. Doing so cuts out that waiting period. You would think that would reduce the suspense, but it actually may heighten it as viewers keep watching more right away. That also enables them to stay fully engrossed in the storyline.
I watched all five and a half seasons of Breaking Bad after the series ended in a month. I had the world of Walter White in my head for that period. It helped me remember details from the earlier season that I likely wouldn’t have otherwise and it doesn’t allow you to think about much else in between episodes. I also just completed all eight seasons of Dexter and waited a couple weeks to watch the series finale until my roommate caught up. My thoughts of the series finales for those two shows are another story, but let’s get back to House of Cards.
I’d be interested in seeing a statistic on how many episodes people watched in a row and the time lapse between watching each episode. Did people watch all episodes in a row or did they spread out their viewing? I’m avoiding reading too much about Season 2 until I complete the series because I imagine that many people finished it in the first weekend.
So, I will return the favor to others who may not have even started the series yet and hold off on any spoilers for now. But I will say this: if you thought Season 1 was intense, it only took watching the Season 2 opener to understand that Francis Underwood will stop at nothing on his power-hungry, calculated climb in politics. He will push anyone out of the way who is blocking his path to get to that finish line. No one is really safe, not even the principal characters.
Frank and Zoe
Coming into Season 2, I was most interested in seeing where the directing and acting team took the relationship between Underwood and fearless, young reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara). Barnes, who engages in questionable activity at a different level than Underwood to get the scoop, has a steep character arc with a moral element buried deep down that Frank lacks. Of the two main leads, she is seemingly our protagonist despite Underwood’s exclusive asides to the camera that break down the imaginary fourth wall between actors and audience.
To say the least, fans were shocked by the storyline of those two characters that made the Season 2 opener arrive with a bang.
How Does the American House of Cards Compare to the British Version?
I’ve seen the 1990 three-part BBC television miniseries, also called House of Cards, which is based on the same book, House of Cards by Michael Dobbs, as the Netflix adaptation. Dobbs is credited as producer for the American version. The BBC version is also on Netflix with each part, or “season,” divided into four episodes, giving us 12 total. One season of the American version alone is 13 episodes a piece, expanding the story.
In the British version, the Francis Underwood character is called Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson), still having the initials F.U., as a wink at the audience. Urquhart is the chief whip of the Conservative party in the House of Commons serving under the Prime Minister whereas Underwood is the chief whip for the Democrats in the House of Representatives, buzzing his ideas into the ears of the President. In both, Francis manipulates almost everyone about him.
The only difference so far is that Francis is not the lone string-puller in the British version, whereas the American Frank seems to have absolute control. He hasn’t faltered yet, though, based on watching the trailer for Season 2, this season might be the first time we see him rattled as the rose-colored glasses begin to lift for those around him. Frank’s wife is also devious in both versions – called Elizabeth Urquhart (Diane Fletcher) in the British version and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in the American take – but is more heartless in the British miniseries and more human in the American one. Kevin Spacey’s Francis is much more charismatic, albeit not much more likable for the audience given his horrendous deeds. All the while, both tell us not to judge them for their actions as they share their thoughts directly to the camera rather than through a Dexter voiceover and stare us in the eyes.
I’ve always been a Spacey fan since seeing him as Eugene Simonet, a teacher who is rough-around-the edges yet vulnerable and sensitive, in Pay It Forward in 2000. So, it really speaks to his acting to say I have a hard time liking his character in House of Cards and think of him as Francis Underwood when I see his picture. But I like Spacey for the role and can’t imagine anyone else in it who could pour the perfect balance of charm and evil into the character as him. It’s difficult to make the bad guy the lead character and it isn’t often done. You hate Francis Underwood, but he also allures you.
The Scoop on Zoe Barnes Vs. Mattie Storin
The Zoe Barnes reporter character, named Mattie Storin in the British version, is only a small part of the miniseries, but the American rendition holds onto her for longer. The newer Zoe is more manipulative and cunning than in the British version of the character who is more innocent yet intelligent. The British version brings genuine love into the Francis-reporter romance a bit more and the age gap is larger as the production shamelessly plays up the “Daddy” references more. Mara gives the character a fresh take and makes her more impulsive. She said in an interview with HuffPost TV that she, as advised by Excutive Producer David Fincher, did not watch the British House of Cards before taking on the role to keep it new and distinct.
Mara’s great-grandfather Timothy Mara is the founder of the New York Giants and her great-grandfather Art Rooney is the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to imdb.com. Her sister, Rooney Mara has also worked with Fincher, playing the complex Lisbeth Salander in the American remake of the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), which he directed.
While there are similarities in the direction of the storyline between the American and British adaptations of House of Cards, the Netflix original series adds more layers and makes a lot of changes. If you want to be surprised in the American version, I would wait to watch the British version just in case.
I’m still in shock from the first episode of Season 2 and am excited to see where it goes from here. And I’m also excited to look for any Connecticut talent in the series and see how they fit in.
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