"House of Cards" and the Changing Nature of Television

"House of Cards" and the Changing Nature of Television
Kevin Spacey in the Netflix original series "House of Cards"
(Courtesy Netflix)

Last Friday, the long awaited unveiling of “House of Cards” arrived, all 13-hours unspooled at once on Netflix. We watched the entire thing over the weekend, in bits and pieces, completely engrossed in the narrative of political intrigue and amoral power dynamics among the movers and shakes of the nation’s capital. Kevin Spacey, as the House Majority Whip on a calculated path of revenge, hasn’t been this good in nearly a decade; as his conflicted wife, Robin Wright is terrifying and mesmerizing; Kate Mara, as a young rookie reporter, and Corey Stoll, as an easily manipulated senator, give career defining performances. Even when he’s not directing, the series is, visually and thematically, from the mind of executive producer David Fincher. It’s safe to say it’s one of the best works of episodic television that will be released this year (which is saying something, considering we’ll have new seasons of both “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” by the summer). The only problem is it’s not on television.

Does that make a difference anymore? In terms of recognition, no. “House of Cards” received just as much, if not more, press leading up to its release, and, according to reports, will be eligible for the dramatic awards at the Emmy’s and Golden Globe’s at the end of the year, where it will certainly be a contender. So in many ways, with networks giving shows less and less time, even to the point of cancelling struggling programs midseason, this new format for original programming might be a ray of light for filmmakers. Why wouldn’t you take your chances releasing an entire season of your show all at once, and let the viewers decide? With more and more people watching television online, downloading episodes or waiting until the whole season appears on Netflix, why would you ever go back to the networks and their draconian reliance on demographics, advertising, timeslots, and ratings?


But after watching the entirety of “House of Cards” in one weekend, immediately after it premiered, we noticed something was missing: the conversation. When “Mad Men” premieres in April, the chatter on blogs and social media will flood the Internet. Everyone who watches will have an opinion of what just happened, and what may happen next. With “House of Cards,” there was no time to discuss. Why speculate on what’s going to happen next when you can just watch the next episode?

In many ways, the longer roll out time of a standard television show asks for a greater investment. You will spend weeks thinking about and discussing “Mad Men,” and when the show ends you won’t stop thinking about it. Will this happen with “House of Cards?” We’re not so sure. At this moment it’s fresh on our minds, but we just finished it yesterday. And it all went by so quickly; we consumed it at such a rapid pace and, we fear, it might disappear just as quickly. We’d be surprised if anybody is talking about “House of Cards” two weeks from now, which is a shame. It deserves to be talked about in depth. If this is the future of television – a quick binge followed by an even quicker detox – we don’t see the benefit.