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'House of Cards' premiere review: Netflix's first series skims expectations

Kevin Spacey stars in the Netflix original series,

Kevin Spacey stars in the Netflix original series, "House of Cards," an adaptation of a British classic. Photo Credit: AP

THE SHOW "House of Cards"

WHEN | WHERE Begins streaming Feb. 1 on Netflix (a subscription to Netflix is required.)

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Congressman from South Carolina and house majority whip Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) fully expects the new president will reward him with the job of secretary of state -- except the new president has other ideas. Underwood has been spurned and now has revenge on his mind -- he has an able Lady Macbeth in his corner, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), who runs a charity and is even more ruthless than her spouse. He begins to set his plan in motion, and it involves a drunken congressman from Pennsylvania, Russo (Corey Stoll), an ambitious newspaper reporter, Zoey Barnes (Kate Mara), and a few other pawns. Based on an old BBC series of the same name, the first two hours were written by Beau Willimon ("Ides of March") and directed by David Fincher; all 13 first-season episodes will start streaming today and will be available for viewing anytime.

MY SAY "A Netflix Original Series. " Those words -- those historic words -- open "House of Cards," and you suddenly, abruptly, even happily realize that a brand-new player with deep pockets has entered this fun fray we call television. But what follows isn't really history at all.

In fact, it's surprisingly mundane. Not that "Cards" is lousy, but it can be dull, plodding, remote, unengaging and often chilly. Partly the problem is one of expectations. For "House of Cards," they've been enormous.

Fincher ("The Social Network") doesn't direct TV all that often, and except for a brief PBS tour of duty on 2003's "Freedom: A History of US," Spacey hasn't done a TV series in nearly 20 years. Add these other names -- Wright, Mara, Stoll -- and you fully expect magic, and instead get just another good TV drama. As the craven, wanton narcissist who thinks the solar system revolves around him, Spacey is excellent (he always is). But the series' depiction of Washington seems all too obvious, in a What-Hollywood-Thinks-D.C.-is-like sort of way. Meanwhile, the newsroom here is almost laughably wrong. Most movies and TV series don't get newspaper work right ("The Wire" is the only exception that comes to mind). Example from "Cards": Barnes refuses to divulge her source to her paper's top editor. If this were to happen in real life, that reporter -- to mangle a phrase coined by Barney Kilgore, the great former editor of the Wall Street Journal -- would be quickly outgoing instead of upcoming.

BOTTOM LINE Above-average newcomer with a great actor in the leading role and frosty grace notes throughout.


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