In the three years since the premiere of House of Cards, television has changed dramatically. Rather than being forced to limit ourselves to one morsel of a story every week, we are increasingly given whole seasons of our favourite shows on a single day, and ‘binge-watching’ has become an acceptable pastime. Given the precedent set by the provocative tale of Frank Underwood and his political manoeuvring, it is easy to see why this format has become so popular.
If the House of Cards bug hasn’t bitten you yet, beware of spoilers ahead. The first series opens with the lead character, played by the drawling Kevin Spacey, strangling a dog; much to the viewer’s distress, his ruthless behaviour rarely improves throughout the series, and yet he is presented to the audience as the underdog to root for. Underwood is the classic modern antihero, and though the series also features an excellent supporting cast, it is impossible to ignore the strange appeal of Spacey’s masterful performance.
All of Netflix’s original shows are designed to be moreish, and yet only the stylish, cynical edge of House of Cards has kept me hooked for hours on end. It represents Netflix at its finest because it epitomises everything that the website is renowned for; carefully crafted television that can afford to engulf its viewers in complex plotlines because it comes in a bulk package rather than in weekly instalments.
Central to House of Cards are the intricate details of the US political system – losing focus momentarily could mean missing the turning point of the whole plotline. However, not allowing viewers to Netflix and chill is part of its appeal; in swallowing you into the dingy underworld of Washington DC, the series provides a richer and more immersive viewing experience than any of its competitors. House of Cards is the flagship product of the new age of television production, and while Netflix continues to produce more original series against a raft of quickly emerging competitors, it will always be top priority on my next-to-watch list – not just because my time watching Underwood has taught me the importance of loyalty at all costs, but because it embodies classic TV with a deliciously dark twist.