Good riddance to ‘House of Cards,’ indeed

Underwoods

This morning, I read with approval a piece headlined “The allegations against Kevin Spacey got ‘House of Cards’ canceled. Good riddance.” And it reminded me that I had meant to note with approval the demise of this awful series.

But my thoughts on it have nothing to do with Kevin Spacey’s sexual proclivities or behavior.

It was just an awful series, on a number of levels.

The last episode I watched was at the beginning of the fourth season. I tried watching it on my iPad while giving platelets at the Red Cross. I was using earbuds, but I also use subtitles because of my Meniere’s, and I quickly realized I did not want anyone seeing me watch this. It was NSFW, or for the Red Cross, either. Also, there’s this nice, grandmotherly tech who frequently makes conversation by asking what I’m watching, and I didn’t want to be drawn into that conversation.

That’s because the first scene opens upon a prison cell in which one prisoner is reciting pornography aloud while his cellmate, shall we say, pleasures himself. Not mild, euphemistic porn here, but intentionally shocking stuff. The “c word” is used, as I recall, to no redeeming social purpose. At first you don’t know what’s going on; the screen is dark and you just hear the words.

And this is the opening scene of the season premiere. Welcome back to “House of Cards,” ladies and gentlemen. If any ladies or gentlemen are still watching.

Before anyone could glance over my shoulder, I quickly changed to some other show — something innocuous. “Blue Bloods,” perhaps.

Later, in keeping with my weak-minded determination to be up with the latest thing, I watched the rest of the episode. And it provided me with no enticements to keep watching, so that’s the last episode I saw. And I certainly haven’t missed it.

That was spring of last year.

Earlier this week, I read that the series was being canceled. There would be no sixth season. That’s all I saw initially, just a headline. At first I assumed it was for lack of merit, and that gave me some satisfaction. I was slightly disappointed to learn it was because of another sex scandal. But I suppose, in a way, that was appropriate, too. Frank Underwood certainly had it coming on that score.

But the show had been nasty on so many other levels, peopled as it was with such irredeemable characters following soul-sucking plotlines. (I’ve complained about the morally arid characters on too many “quality” TV shows lately — but none of the others could hold a candle to this show. It tried hard to be worse, and it succeeded.)

And then there’s the worst thing about it: There were people who took it seriously. People who thought politics really was full of such creatures and such actions. People who thought this was politics, that this was what politics was all about. Thus the show was one of many things contributing to the disaffection, the sickness in the land, that led us to Donald J. Trump.

Watch this: Doug, or someone, will say, “Look around you! This IS politics! Look at the indictments in Columbia, in Washington.” And I will tell you that you can choose the worst person involved in any of those scandals — go back to Watergate, if you’d like — and you won’t find anyone as completely evil as Underwood and company. Maybe not even G. Gordon Liddy, and he was a pretty sick puppy.

Compared to Underwood, Richard Nixon was Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy. Frank Underwood had the morals of Pee Wee Gaskins, if you want a real-world comparison.

Something really went wrong with this project. I never found it enjoyable, from the beginning — although I tried to give it a chance. I watched because everybody in the political world was talking about it, and because it was supposedly about a congressman (a white Democrat, no less, which was our first clue that it would not be realistic) from South Carolina. The Gaffney Peachoid even made an appearance!

The original.

The original.

But it didn’t work, even on its own, strange terms. With the original British series back in 1990, it was completely obvious that this was arch, extreme satire. Or at least it seemed so to me. Francis Urquhart’s evilness seemed deliberately too much. And I found it more engaging — but not enough to watch past the first season.

And at first, we were invited to see the U.S. series the same way, with Frank Underwood’s little asides through the fourth wall serving as a smirking nod and wink to keep us from taking him too seriously: See what a bad boy I am?

But it wasn’t really funny, even going by a decadent notion of humor, and eventually the series seemed to abandon even that pose.

Did “House of Cards” lead directly to Trump? No. But it offered a little encouragement — which they did not need — to the nihilists who were already pleased to think the very worst of politics. Some of them (such as the Vince Foster fantasists) were sufficiently far gone to think this was some sort of documentary about the Clintons, just with the names changed. And it’s little wonder that anyone who thought that would vote for Trump over Clinton, even if they could see what an idiot he was.

The painful irony is that this absurd show, which (one hopes) was never meant to be taken seriously by anyone, led in any, tiny way to our present situation, in which the White House is occupied by someone so unfit that a couple of years back, we could not have imagined it.

Not that Trump is quite as bad as Underwood. But he’s every bit as absurd….

And no, the high production values -- such as the interesting opening credits -- couldn't redeem this show.

And no, the high production values — such as the interesting opening credits — couldn’t redeem this show.

38 thoughts on “Good riddance to ‘House of Cards,’ indeed

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Another thing that gets me: The sixth season of this abomination was in production.

    “The Wire” only went five seasons, excellent as it was.

    “Firefly” didn’t even get to finish one.

    Perhaps impossibly evil, stupid people ARE in charge of our world. Or at least our entertainment…

    Reply
  2. Norm Ivey

    I made it halfway through episode 2 of season 1 of House of Cards before I gave up on it. I watch TV either to be entertained or to be educated. I was neither.

    I gave Breaking Bad a season and a half before I gave up on it. Walter White was such an idiot for someone who was supposed to be smart.

    I do expect to binge on Stranger Things season 2 this weekend, however.

    Reply
    1. Richard

      I struggled through Stranger Things 1, that was brutal to watch. However I’ve watched Breaking Bad three times. House of Cards or better known as the Clinton Documentary wasn’t bad as long as you learned to hate everyone in the show. There wasn’t one character that wasn’t a slimeball, which I expect is the same in real life on Capitol Hill.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        And there you have it. “House of Cards” was a hit with people who think it “is the same in real life on Capitol Hill.”

        Which reminds me. Just how accurate is “The Wire?” I wonder how folks at the Baltimore Chamber of Commerce view that show. They probably wish HBO and Amazon would take it down from streaming. “House of Cards” is a satirical fantasy with absurdist overtones, but Simon made “The Wire” hyper-realistic. To what extent are things THAT bad in that town?

        Reply
        1. Claus2

          Well let’s just say that House of Cards did pretty well in the ratings. So Richard isn’t alone in thinking this. I bet there’s more non-fiction in the storyline than fiction.

          Reply
        2. Bryan Caskey

          House of Cards was over-flattering to people in DC by portraying them as 3-D chess playing super geniuses, rather than knuckleheads they actually are.

          Oh, and the show deserved to be cancelled based on Spacey’s awful Southern accent alone.

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yeah, you’ve nailed it Bryan. Not only do these people hatch nefarious schemes — they’re so brilliant that their schemes WORK! How could anyone find that credible?

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Speaking of nefarious schemes: I’m really not liking what Jimmy McNulty got up to in the last season of “The Wire.”

              He’s good police, but he’s also a self-destructive idiot.

              The real shocker is that he’s roped in Lester Freamon, the wisest man on the show…

              Reply
              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Worse, he’s got a reporter helping him.

                I hate to see a guy like that representing the press on a TV show, because it makes people think there are reporters out there like him, that it’s a regular occurrence.

                And while there have been sensational cases of that sort of thing, in my 35-year career in newspapers I never ran across anyone like that. (The worst I ever saw was a guy who, right after achieving his dream of becoming a columnist, had a major case of writer’s block and started plagiarizing other people’s work. He was caught, and fired.)

                I didn’t like this guy on “The Wire” from the first time I saw him. He was turning up his nose at any local story that didn’t have the chance of going national and burnishing his reputation. I thought, “One of those…” I HAVE seen plenty of people like that — more concerned with their careers and moving up to bigger papers than with serving the readers right where they are. With very young people I supposed it’s sometimes understandable, but I still hold that attitude in contempt.

                So if I’d known one person in that fictional newsroom would be someone who would betray the whole profession, I’d have known it was him as soon as I saw him…

                Reply
  3. Bart

    Anytime a series is produced and shown on Netflix or any of the other premium channels, they are usually void of any morality on any level. I haven’t watched House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad, or any of the other trash offered that is passed off as entertainment and/or socially relevant. The only decent series shown recently was Justified and Longmire. Unfortunately, Justified ended last year and Longmire is in its last season. We do watch Sherlock and a few of the British series that don’t insult our intelligence or sense of decency.

    I agree with Norm. I watch television to be entertained or educated. Unfortunately, the way programming for the networks, cable, and premium channels, neither is in abundance and finding good programming is becoming more and more difficult.

    Reply
    1. Claus2

      They also are very well done compared to the crap put out by the major networks. Look at the writing and cast forNetflix’s The Ranch? Can you imagine if NBC, CBS, ABC, or FOX could get this cast for a series?

      Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Maybe so. I didn’t watch past the first episode. It was the only thing I’ve ever seen Sam Elliott in where he didn’t seem REAL. He seemed like a guy reciting lines with which he was uncomfortable…

            Reply
  4. Doug Ross

    Bill Clinton was NSFW.

    It’s a TV show that is a composite of real life situations.. you know, like all the cop shows where the hero fights criminals every day… or Perry Mason who wins every case… or ER where heroic doctors save lives every shift. Or 24 — where what would normally takes weeks is squeezed into one day. It’s fiction.

    Your beloved West Wing was no different,,, a composite of a bunch of “taken from the headlines” stories mashed up into a bunch of characters. The good guys were mythical political operatives, the bad guys just caricatures of “types” we’re all familiar with.

    You somehow think the shows drive the mindset of the public. I suspect it is the mindset of the public that drives the shows. You’re just ultra-sensitive to anything that might peel back the curtain in any way on the true way things work in politics. That degrades your “everything is beautiful” mantra.

    Anyway, I’m sure “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” is on AMC sometime soon.

    Reply
    1. Doug Ross

      I watch all kinds of shows… if you thought House of Cards was offensive, stay away from Transparent. I just finished season 4 — and while I won’t say it is a great show, it is interesting to get a view into the world of the transgender community. More than anything, I like shows that depict some aspect of real life – which is why I don’t do science fiction or fantasy (still can’t grasp the attraction to Game of Thrones).

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        The one thing I like the least about Game of Thrones is the fantasy stuff — the dragons, the White Walkers, etc.

        I think there could be a decent story there without all that.

        In fact… sorry, but here it comes again… having traced my ancestors back to the Middle Ages has taught me how much those people’s lives were actually like Game of Thrones, without the supernatural stuff.

        Of course, the only ancestors I can trace back that far is the tiny minority that was noble and/or royal — which is probably like 1/10,000th of my ancestry. But the cool thing is, all those people have Wikipedia pages, and I can read about their intrigue-filled lives. They were engaged in their own games of thrones. That part isn’t fantasy. They were always grabbing for power, changing alliances, trusting their swords more than rules.

        It makes me appreciate even more living in a country of laws and not of men — something that, of course, our current president doesn’t understand at all, which is what makes him a threat to the system with which we have been blessed…

        Reply
    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, I’d love something that “peel(ed) back the curtain… on the true way things work in politics.” That’s something I’d watch.

      In some ways, my “beloved West Wing” did that. Perhaps it was unrealistically rosy. But I liked Sorkin’s efforts to find good in everybody. In fact, it didn’t really have “bad guys,” because he worked so hard to humanize everybody. That made the show uplifting. And why shouldn’t art lift us up?

      I also liked that, while the main characters were liberal, conservative characters frequently took them down a notch, effectively challenging their assumptions. Ainsley Hayes was my third favorite character, after Leo and Toby…

      Reply
      1. Richard

        You don’t believe House of Cards is not based on the Clintons? The wife is Hillary but skinnier and half as ruthless.

        Reply
    3. JesseS

      It was on TCM two nights ago.

      I’ve seen the beginning at least 10 times, but for whatever reason never got around to seeing the ending until the other night. Man, is that a Capra movie. He always sets up great endings by building up these fantastic villains who you despise, but also pity a little, and then it feels like the last 10 minutes are cut off because he has no idea what to do with them. It takes me back to the SNL skit about It’s a Wonderful Life’s “Lost Ending” where the town decided to lynch Old Man Potter when they figure out that he mysteriously made an $8,000 bank deposit.

      I also got the feeling that Saunders was the real protagonist of Mr. Smith. She was the only character with a legitimate character arc. She’s the real “every man”. I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed that Jean Arthur received top billing in the closing titles.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yeah, she was great in that.

        I love Capra. I tend to be a hypercritical person — an occupational hazard of spending so many years catching errors in copy under pressure; it wires your brain to look intently for what’s WRONG in everything — so I appreciate someone who makes the effort to help me see good in people…

        Reply
  5. JesseS

    Watched the first season, but I really didn’t see a reason to view the next. The idea of Lonesome Rhodes Goes to Washington seemed interesting enough, but the characters were too 2 dimensional to make anything interesting out of it. They were all just evil enough to be totally predictable and after checking the next season from Wikipedia’s plot description …yep.

    When real people do bad things they are often deluded. Sometimes they say the ends justify the means. Sometimes they forget the ends they were going for and get caught in the trap. Sometimes they imagine they are doing the right thing all along. Sometimes they do wrong because they imagine the world is wrong, so doing wrong is the only way to fix it. And yes, from Rome to Idi Amin, sometimes they are just legitimate psychopaths who were attracted to power like a moth to a flame.

    They tried to tease all of the non-psycho stuff with Underwood, but it was always “*wink-wink* nope, I’m just a lizard person after all” in the end. That’s boring and tedious after a while. Tune in tomorrow to see more snakes eats more rats.

    Reply
  6. Chuckie

    No need for Underwood anymore.
    We’ve got Trump.
    Reality in this case is worse than fiction – BECAUSE it’s real.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      But see, cultural references such as this show are a small part of the reason we have Trump — all those people out there who think House of Cards is real, so Trump is no worse than the norm…

      Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          That’s what they think. They see something like “House of Cards,” and think that’s the norm, and therefore think Trump isn’t so bad…

          You may have been confused by the fact that I typed “think” as “thing”… Fixed it now…

          Reply
          1. Doug Ross

            No, Norm is miffed that you said Trump was no worse than him – “the norm”. I think that Trump is at least SLIGHTLY worse than Norm. :-)

            Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *