WHEN House of Cards debuted on Netflix in 2013, it became something of a phenomenon.
With stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright centre stage and David Fincher at the helm of the first two episodes, it almost seemed as though the series was set up to succeed — and it did. The first two seasons were met with widespread critical acclaim, with particular praise given to the performances and the show’s innovative use of breaking the Fourth Wall.
The sexy scandal of it all — and the fun in imagining if the Underwoods’ shady business was reflective of what really goes on in Washington D.C. — made House of Cards a hot topic of conversation across age groups (even if a large part of the political happenings probably went over many heads). As one of the breakout Netflix original series, it was the hip thing to be watching and talking about, the show that made you feel out-of-the-loop if it was brought up and you weren’t caught up.
Somewhere along the line, however, House of Cards started to lose its coolness. Now, when it’s brought up, most people admit to having fallen off the wagon, lost interest, or gave up due to the stalled action of the third season. The series hasn’t become bad — its buzz has just decreased, and that can potentially be attributed to a handful of factors.
What happens when you get everything you’ve ever wanted? Well, we found out when Frank finally murdered and lied his way into the White House and was sworn in as President of the United States at the end of the second season, and from there, much of the dramatic conflict was lost. How much further can you go once you’ve reached the top? On a show that took pride in its accuracy in the beginning, the rapid escalation through the ranks felt rushed and mildly preposterous — especially since we all know Frank doesn’t intend on going anywhere now that he’s at the top.
A large component of coolness is generally a sense of apathy and effortlessness. House of Cards was cool when Frank Underwood was more of a snake and less of a lion. Before all eyes were on him, it was as if we were in on a secret — he still had cards to play (forgive me for that) and we were privy to the elusive sexiness of it all. Once Frank’s malicious, power-hungry nature was put on blast, it became a little less fun and scandalous — with him unable to charm people, it’s harder to root for him, because so much of the intrigue is gone. While it is fascinating narratively to watch the people who were once his biggest supporters begin to turn on him, again, it has certainly led to a loss of interest in some viewers.
The handful of transgressions that have led to the lack of “umph” factor — perhaps ditching Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) too soon, a lacklustre third season, and a couple instances of jumping the shark (like Claire insisting on being Frank’s running mate) — still haven’t destroyed the series’ critical viability. House of Cards will never pack the same punch it did in its first season, because the novelty of Frank’s knowing eyes looking down the camera just isn’t as thrilling as it used to be. It bounced back in its fourth season, and the fifth continues along the same strong path — it’s just hard to reel viewers back in once you’ve lost them. Ignore your friends who say it’s not cool to be watching it anymore — because if the latest season’s told us anything, it’s that House of Cards is still a game worth playing … even without Beau Willimon.
The fifth season of House of Cards hits Netflix today.