Friday, January 31, 2014

My Favorite New TV Show of 2013

I know what I'm supposed to say my favorite new show of 2013 was. The critical community has spoken. I'm supposed to say "Orange Is the New Black" or "Masters of Sex." And yes, those are two excellent shows that everybody should watch. (Side question: how did two of the best new shows of the year -- both named after the books that inspired them -- end up with such terrible titles?) But at the end of the year, it wasn't "Orange" but an earlier Netflix series that impressed me the most.

My favorite new show of 2013 was...


House of Cards

"House of Cards" follows fictional South Carolina congressman Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey with all his Oscar-winning charm, menace and vulnerability. The series opens on the inauguration of a new president, a president Frank helped get elected and who's due to reward Frank with an appointment to secretary of state. When the president reneges on this promise, Frank begins plotting an alternative ascent to power.

Not to be outdone, Frank's wife Claire plays the role of mild-mannered non-profit head in the daylight, but in the shadows is every bit the political schemer Frank is. Their marriage is more of mutual respect than outright love, with the understanding that they're more powerful as a couple than they are independently. Claire is played by Robin Wright in what I consider to be a career-best role.

If the series seems not especially true to the reality of Washington, D.C., that's because it's not - a fact confirmed by a friend of mine in government. (Oh yeah, Frank Underwood isn't the only one with connections.) But the show is successful in establishing and maintaining its own reality, and the fantasy is part of the appeal.

For me, the standout character of "House of Cards" is up-and-coming young journalist Zoe Barnes. Carefully written and strongly portrayed (by Kate Mara), Zoe is a character of seeming contradictions that could have easily fallen apart in lesser hands. At times, she's the brash young go-getter, gaming the system and confidently climbing the ranks. At other times, she's naive, in over her head and prone to mistakes. More often than not, characters like this are the result of lazy, sloppy writing. Zoe, instead, is a sign of just how skillful the writing on this series is.

A great cast across the board, intriguing characters, and twisting plots that unravel captivatingly make this my favorite show of 2013. Looking forward to more.

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