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How House of Cards Revitalised Long Form Storytelling - Netflix NZ
House of Cards Netflix NZ

Netflix is changing the way we watch Television. No longer are we rushing home after work to catch our favourite Prime Time TV shows; the concept itself has become obsolete. And this is all happening due to online streaming content providers, the leader of which world wide, is Netflix. While older Television Series were released on Netfilx in entire seasons when the service became popular, allowing people to watch a whole season in one sitting, brand new original shows pioneered this concept even further starting with Netflix’s own original series, ‘House Of Cards’. Binge watching an entire season of a brand new show released on Netflix has now become old news, it’s almost the norm for original content on Netflix. However, let’s take an in depth look at how ‘House Of Cards’ championed the concept and revitalized long form storytelling on Television.

From Concept to The Screen

After completing his work on ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, critically acclaimed director of classic films like ‘Fight Club’, and more recently ‘Gone Girl’, David Fincher, set to work on a new concept; a Television Series that wouldn’t be aired on Television. Feeling restricted by the one-off story telling method that films are in their limited run time, Fincher was attracted to the concept of TV shows, as they afforded a long form version of storytelling that spans episode after episode, season after season, taking years to culminate into a cohesive dramatic vehicle. Happening upon ‘House Of Cards’, as Fincher and the other makers tried to find a network to finance the show, most demanded they create a pilot episode, what is basically an audition tape, before any long term commitment can be made. Netflix was the only network who ordered a full 2 Seasons of the show. This allowed the creators & writers to tell a long term story, spanning the total of 26 episodes, without any interference or thought to ratings or sponsors or other corporate considerations that may hinder the creative process. The concept that began with ‘House Of Cards’, has been so successful that it’s now become the model for Netflix’s stable of original content programming. The rest is history.

No Holds Barred Political Intrigue

‘House Of Cards’ is all about the political world in the United States Of America, featured through the perspective of a ruthless politician and his bid for power. There are very subtle Shakespearean undertones to the story, as the protagonist lusts for power and decides to overthrow the reigning authority in order to do so. Season 1 is the most prevalent of this, as the show opens with the protagonist being wronged, which sets into motion his plan to take over the kingdom, which in this show, is the United States Of America. The story centers around Democrat Frank Underwood, played to perfection by Kevin Spacey, and how he expertly manipulates the people, relationships and the system of democracy within America, for his own personal benefit. The shows features an intense and realistically hard look at the inner workings of things inside the White House, Congress and other branches of the government of one of the most influential countries of the world. Former President Bill Clinton has even remarked that the way the show depicts the internal everyday of the White House is 90% accurate.
The Other Members Of Royal Court

Season 1 sees Underwood, only as a mid-level politician and how he schemed and claw his way into influence. With the unfettered long form story telling provided by the Netflix model, ‘House Of Cards’ is able to tell a story that spans each episode, bleeding into the next, necessitating a desire to watch the entire season in one go. The show features multiple story arcs, with multiple characters, all being orchestrated by Underwood in a cerebral chess match in order to become Vice President. Season 1 introduces one of the stronger leading ladies on television, Frank’s wife Claire, played by Robin Wright. Being harkened to acting as Lady Macbeth, the character of Claire is jaw droppingly stunning in personality, and is implicit in almost every action taken by her husband. The pair together make an intimidating couple, who won’t let anything stand in their way. Claire’s own struggle, an extension of the Lady Macbeth attributes, extends throughout the series as well, most recently culminating in the events of Season 3.

Other Known Faces

Season 1 Cast

Kate Mara: Last seen in this summer’s disastrous ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot, Mara plays an up and coming journalist, who makes a deal with the devil himself, Underwood, in order to get on the inside of exclusive stories.

Corey Stoll: Playing the villains in this summer’s ‘Ant-Man’, Stoll plays a junior political figure, who has demons of his own, which Underwood uses against him in order to make his own plans come to fruition.

Constance Zimmer: Previously seen in HBO’s ‘The Newsroom’ and ABC’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, Zimmer is no rookie when it comes to TV. She gives a strong performance here as Mara’s co-worker who is forced to flee after Mara’s character pays the price for her partnership with Underwood.

Mozhan Marno: Returning to TV this fall with NBC’s ‘The Blacklist’, Marno plays a reporter for the White House Press Corp, who gets a whiff of Underwood’s dirty dealings, but is shut out immediately. We may see more of her in the next season.

Kim Dickens: Currently featured in the AMC series, ‘Fear The Walking Dead’, Dickens also plays a reporter who becomes wise to the situation in the White House in Season 3, and attempts to blow the whistle.

Breaking The Mould

One of the more unique things about ‘House Of Cards’, is its unusual form of narration by the lead character of Frank Underwood. The proceedings of the show is usually narrated by Underwood, but what sets this narration apart from the usual is that he narrates directly to the audience. Breaking the fourth wall, Underwood addresses the audience in most of his speeches about things unfolding in the story, and not just for the sake of passing information on, but it is character development as well. Underwood treats the audience as being an accomplice of his actions, like a confidante with whom he is sharing his life, and talking things out to get better perspective on issues that are of concern to him. It’s surprisingly innovative and at times jarringly intimate.

Consensual Content & Explicit Entertainment

Without the restrictions of Cable or Broadcast television censors, ‘House Of Cards’ is able to include content and subject matter that would otherwise be off putting or inappropriate for general audiences. However, Netflix is an on demand streaming service; shows are chosen to be watched, and can be turned off if undesirable. This circumvents the issue of having offensive content on the airwaves, as it is not running on airwaves. The graphic content and demeanours of characters and dialogues, are not just appearing on screen when scrolling through channels during family time. The show is being viewed, by choice, by audiences who are aware and make a conscious choice to experience that content. With the overwhelming success of the model implemented with ‘House Of Cards’, streaming releases of full seasons of original programming can easily be described as ‘the wave of the future’. The series’ realistic portrayal of the mechanics of politics within the United States Of America is something that also happens to be uniquely relevent at a time when the US Presidential race is in full swing, and a new administration seeks to take over the government in a little over 1 year. ‘House Of Cards’ have a great finger on the pulse of not just America, but the entire world with its stark depictions of US Politics, and it’s doing an amazing job of engaging audiences, maybe even better than the real world drama unfolding everyday.

8.7 10


How House of Cards Revitalised Long Form Storytelling

Reader Rating: ( 2 votes ) 8.7

About The Author Daniel Williams

Daniel Williams is a film fanatic and has been a Netflix member since it's launch in New Zealand in March 2015. Among his current favourites shows are BoJack Horseman, House of Cards and Narcos.

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