During the last half of 2000 the British produced a TV series in four episodes of just under one hour each called House of Cards. Browsing through Netflix, I came across it and decided to give it a shot. I loved it. Each episode was superbly acted by the lead, Ian Richardson; the story was tight, with no obvious flaws in logic or continuity throughout. Yes, the were some implausibilities, but what politically-based stories, non-fiction included, have ever been truly plausible. Just think Iran-Contra, Abu Ghraib, or the Clinton impeachment and acquittal.
The came the American version from the same book by Michael Hobbs, starring Kevin Spacey and the ageless Robin Wright. In the hand of producers and writers over here, what started out as a story somewhat similar to the British original soon began to cycle off on its own. In come the lobbyists, Chinese gamblers, side plots of alcoholism, Russian confrontations, murder (I believe four, but can’t swear by it), the President’s love for barbecue, ambassadorships for Ms. Wright, and many other distractions and glosses which seem mostly intended to extend the story.
This is where commercialism goes well beyond commercials. If a show is a hit, someone will undoubtedly pitch morphing a miniseries into a weekly soap opera that can go on for four or more seasons as House of Cards is doing. The alternative is to finish a good story where it should aptly end (good for the viewers) and then have to schedule a new show in its slot that may flop before it catches on (bad for commercial TV).
Without trying too hard I believe we can all remember series that continued well past their welcome. I first felt this way about the series “Happy Days”. It began as a true gem of original comedy but when it dragged on through its final three years it became a parody of itself. Henry Winkler’s Fonzie went for the charming protector and enforcer as necessary to acquiring unusual powers that could have been enough for him to apply for membership in the Justice League.
The thing is were so used to these practices that we come to accept them as they are instead of voting with a channel switch when enough is enough. If I have offended any American House of Cards fans, I’m sorry. I’m only expressing one guy’s opinion, which is what this medium was invented for.
If you are a big fan, maybe it would be a good time to follow the suggestion made by James Fallows in The Atlantic, issue of 02/12/2014:
Before You Watch the NewHouse of Cards, Do Yourself a Favor and See the Original. In which I (reluctantly) acknowledge the superiority of the British style of satire.