With the unforgiving winds of late winter whipping through town there was only one thing on my mind: House of Cards season three being released on February 27th.
The series has exploded off of the Netflix platform and garnered praise as the first original online-only web series to be Emmy nominated.
With its dark political storyline beginning to take shape it seems as though the main character, Frank Underwood, has the entire country right where he wants it as season three begins.
But what makes this show so intriguing to viewers across the nation?
It’s true, viewers have enjoyed political dramas set in the backdrop of the White House before; but is there something unique in particular to this Netflix original?
“One reason for the popularity of House of Cards could be how different it is from the West Wing,” said Dr. Jeremy Youde the head of the Political Science Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “Every issue is normally handled so honestly on the West Wing, whereas House of Cards is a much darker, grittier series.”
Dr. Youde, whom admits to preferring the original British series more, brings up an interesting point; is it possible viewers actually enjoy the tactics in which the show’s characters follow in order to accomplish their goals?
It is an intriguing idea that makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of the viewer watching how a ruthless man could climb the ranks of the political spectrum with such disregard for integrity.
“Although I would imagine he gets a lot of things done, I don’t think many people who watch the show would want Frank Underwood as the President of the United States of America,” said Youde.
Dr. Youde compares the character of Frank Underwood favorably to former president Lyndon B. Johnson in part because of their stoic behaviors.
Most people probably would not want the manipulative and power hungry Frank Underwood as the President of the United States, but being the worst-case scenario president in many people’s minds may be what is driving the show’s viewership.
“Frank Underwood pretty much embodies everything we as city employee’s do not want to see from a politician, fictional or not,” said Zack Filipovich the Chairman of the Finance Committee for the city of Duluth.
Could rooting for the villain be the secret to the House of Cards dynamic that seems to be in full swing? Perhaps.
Perhaps, it is more about what real life politicians aren’t doing compared to Frank Underwood. Underwood's unlocking of bipartisan stalemates contrasts what we see from Washington today.
“People are tired of gridlock in Congress, they are tired of bipartisanship failing and public opinion of the government reflects these negative feelings,” said Filipovich.
Congress’s approval rating has been recuperating from record lows in the last year and a half since the infamous government shutdown of October 2013 and viewers could prefer House of Cards because of how efficiently laws are enacted.
When watching House of Cards for example, things seem to move very quickly in the political spectrum; contrarily, that is not accurate according to Filipovich.
“Government action takes time no matter what level we are dealing with, legislation can’t just be implemented without a plan and some form of compromise.”
What House of Cards does so seamlessly, is they are able to speed up this process and make it more enticing for the viewer to pay attention to.
Although he admits to being “hooked”, Zack Filipovich does see the series as a bit of a detriment to non-fictitious city workers.
When asked what he believes is the biggest misunderstanding about government workers, Filipovich points to how hard they work.
“We aren’t just pushing papers around, government employees work extremely hard because we care about the community we are involved with here in Duluth.”
These are only a couple of reasons for the success of the gritty political thriller on the silver screen but they are not the only ones.
Acting, writing, cinematography, and the format in which the show is released can also be a deciding factor in what audiences find appeasing.
William Payne, the Dean of the School of Fine Arts at UMD, believes the show has a very “Shakespearian” feel to it, especially when Frank breaks the fourth wall.
“His soliloquy’s are so engaging to the viewer that it actually feels as if you are an accomplice to Frank,” said Payne. He wants you to know exactly what his goals are and you feel like the only one who could intervene.”
Kevin Spacey’s performance has been applauded by critics and it is true he truly does carry the show but not alone according to Payne.
“Although Hollywood tends to be more male centric, Robin Wright as Claire is just as crucial to the series as Kevin Spacey is. The chemistry between the two when they are sharing cigarettes outside the Oval Office is immense,” said Payne.
William Payne doesn’t see any poorly acted characters in the series, and admits that one of his favorite performances in the show is by Michael Kelly, who is tasked with bringing to life the puzzling right hand man— Doug Stamper.
The cinematography of the opening sequence is a major aspect to setting the mood of every single episode.
The time lapses of illustrious monuments around Washington D.C. in a sort of grainy, gritty fashion is a metaphor, which encompasses the grey nature of the political spectrum.
So, maybe there isn’t one particular reason for House of Card’s popularity, perhaps it is a combination of all of the above and it would be premature to pinpoint simply one of the reasons discussed.
It is clear, that season four will be very intriguing with it likely being released the same time as the 2016 presidential campaign season.