Tag Archives: binge-watching

House of Cards – Season 2

89

Review:

House of Cards – Season 2

**** stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

Having just finished House of Cards season two a couple nights ago I felt it was necessary to express how much I admire this show. From the very first episode of season one I was hooked – enthralled is more like it. And season two is even better…SO much better. I didn’t think that was possible.

I love political movies; the ins and outs of Washington, the corruption, the intrigue – it is all so captivating. Here in House of Cards, we are given an ever broader view of just how dirty that town is. I will concede that this is a fictional depiction of how American politics works and there are surely some extremes and liberties displayed, which serve the drama and tension of the story-line. However I am certain that a good amount of what we see here actually does go on.

Politics is just a dirty, power-hungry enterprise which is ripe with favors, alignments and concessions on all sides. In many ways Washington is a circus populated with puppets, puppeteers and figure-heads that fight in public and shake hands over laughs and bourbon in private. In effect, the joke is on us – the PEOPLE who buy into the farce that is American politics.

Our vessel for this look into the political matrix is the diabolical and determined Frank Underwood, played brilliantly by Kevin Spacey. This is his world and anyone who gets in his way is toast. Spacey is pitch-perfect in this role and he commands every scene with vigor and a steadfast determination which he shares with his audience when he often breaks the fourth wall to verbalize his inner monologue. He is the most charming, intelligent monster we have seen on screen in recent memory. It is rare that you find yourself both rooting for and against the show’s protagonist – who in turn also serves as the antagonist to other characters. That is a very interesting dichotomy and probably why the show is so intriguing.

Spacey’s supporting cast is also magnificent – lead by the always wonderful Robin Wright – who is doing her best work here as his equally-calculating wife Claire. Together they plow through Washington, doing anything and everything necessary to accomplish their goals and often stepping on people to get there. Casualties are all over the House of Cards canvas, with some truly shocking moments and unexpected twists and deaths. Michael Kelly is excellent also as Underwood’s right hand man Doug Stamper who exemplifies a mix of creepiness, servitude and blind allegiance; vowing to do whatever his master commands. Is season two, he is given a lot more time to flesh out this character and man, does he have problems to sort out. Raymond Tusk (played by Gerald McRaney) is given a lot more to do this season as well; his role serving as a fantastic manifestation of the supreme capitalist – a billionaire corporate tycoon maddened by power and hungry for the ear of President Walker. Michael Gill who we see a lot more of this season (as said President Walker) does a terrific job of showing us a man who is being played on all sides and at every turn by his supposed allies. At times he is almost paralyzed and it is not until he learns to show some strength, that he begins to regain his footing as the Commander in Chief.

I imagine many, if not all presidents in real life are in similar situations as Walker finds himself here – caught in the middle of dire national issues, foreign scandals and inter-office politics all the while hoping to do what he feels is right and possibly trusting the advice of people who may or may not have his best interests at heart.

This is an amazingly compelling show on all levels and I hate that I must now wait a year for season three. The perils of binge-watching are truly a double-edged sword. I can’t wait for that theme song, that incredible score, to kick in once again; which precedes a whole new chapter in Frank Underwood’s journey to the top. This is one of the few shows that I sit through the opening credits for EVERY time. I just love the score that much and adore all that GREAT time-lapse footage of the streets of Washington. It is such a cool introduction montage and I am thankful to David Fincher for creating that for us (not to mention, overseeing the show itself).

I know this program is based on a popular BBC series (and novel) of the same name, which I am very interested in becoming familiar with. I imagine the inner-working of the British Parliament must be just as intriguing, if not more, than the inner bowels of Washington, but I hesitate to venture into that material in fear of potential spoilers for the American House of Cards I have become so enchanted by. I am sure this version deviates from the British source material, but I am sure there are enough similarities that could possibly ruin certain big revelations down the road. So, I guess I will wait for the American run of House of Cards to play out then maybe I will visit the BBC version. Alas, the waiting is indeed the hardest part.

The Wire – Season 2

76

Review:

The Wire – Season 2

**** stars (of 4)

By Christopher Pickhardt

I finally finished The Wire – season 2. WOW, I LOVED it. I think I may have even enjoyed this season more than season one. I loved the whole docks element, which I thought was a really interesting element to the whole Baltimore crime world. You do not often see the life of a dockworker fleshed out on television or in the movies, but thankfully HBO enjoys presenting original and engaging content. We are introduced to a whole new world within The Wire and meet a pack of new and interesting characters.

I thought Frank Sobotka was a very intriguing (and tragic) character and I always liked Chris Bauer (especially since his performance as Machine in 8mm!) And the character of Sobotka’s son Ziggy: what a sad, lost sole he was – a totally relatable character. I think we all know someone like that or have at one point or another. James Ransone totally nailed that part. You feel bad for him simultaneously while being utterly frustrated by him. He is one of those guys who just can’t get out of his own way.

Nick Sobotka is a great character too – he’s the guy who is caught in the middle with the pressure of truly tough choices weighing on his shoulders…he’s the one who has to watch out for not only Ziggy but for his family. He tries to do the right thing but when temptation to do the wrong thing is too great, he reaches a dire crossroads. I could relate to him quite a bit, for he is the guy who most represented the everyman and like his uncle Frank, did what he felt was the best thing, for the right reasons – even if it was the wrong choice in the end. This is truly great stuff – in the realm of Greek tragedy really and apropos.

The docks and its relation to the human trafficking story-line were very interesting, as was the Greek crime syndicate and its Russian crossover. I liked that we saw criminals from all ethnicities in this season. When was the last time you saw a villain portrayed as a Greek smuggler? In fact, “The Greek” himself, played by Bill Raymond was completely believable and unique. I will confess, that at first I felt The Greek should have been a bit more menacing, but in retrospect now that I have seen the entire season, I think the casting was just right. Raymond’s performance exhibited a less-is-more, less stereotypical and almost un-assuming quality, which is what the role requires.

As always, the procedural element of The Wire is very interesting and I can see why this show has such prestige to it, for it is so exacting and intricate in its details. And I love the politics within the police department and the ensuing in-fighting. Rawles and Valchek will go down in history as two of the biggest hard-ass pricks to ever grace the screen, although at times Rawles (John Dolman) allows for some likability to shine through every once in a while. I love Lt. Daniels (Lance Reddick), Lester (Clark Peters) and Bunk (Wendell Pierce) of course and Dominic West’s McNulty is such a classic example of the worn-out, tortured great cop, which Dominic West plays TO A TEE. I also loved the addition this season of Amy Ryan as Beatrice (or Beattie). Ryan is always great and here she adds a touch of real character, playing someone you feel like you’d run into in your daily life. Ryan is a wise addition to the team, as her character is an eager go-getter who craves the action and suppresses a subtext of quiet desperation, which is very interesting.

And lastly, Omar – has there ever been a better loose cannon? He’s just awesome. Michael K. Williams is truly a revelation in this role! The criminals that populate this show are so engaging, as you judge and root for them at the same time: from Omar to the troubled Bubbles (Andre Royo) to Idris Elba’s Stringer Bell (whom I respect for his dedication to the job and love how he is in business school, wanting to be the best business man he can be), we’re captivated by these flawed people and we’re hanging on their every move, hoping they’ll come out on top. It is an interesting dichotomy to say the least – especially since all these characters are at odds with each other one minute then aligned the next. This show is just so dynamic and rich! We get a true sense for what it is like to be in this world and we certainly don’t want to be a part of it, except for maybe looking in through double-sided glass. Bring on season 3!