House of Cards, the American political drama starring Kevin Spacey, debuted on Netflix earlier today and reviews of the new show have started to appear online.
While any new series faces the problem of convincing audiences of its worth, House of Cards also has to contend with critics making comparisons to the acclaimed vintage BBC series on which it is based.
After all, the original 1990 political drama, which starred Ian Richardson as the fictional Tory chief whip Francis Urquhart, was so popular that the line "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment" is still used in everyday speech.
There’s also the issue of House of Cards being somewhat revolutionary, as it’s the first high-profile drama series to eschew the conventional restrictions of TV and have all its episodes released for download simultaneously.
Happily though, critics on both sides of the Atlantic seem broadly agreed that the new show is a success, with only a few dissenting voices bucking the trend.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Benjamin Secher awarded the show five stars and called House of Cards “the most remarkable new television drama of the year”.
Secher celebrated the fact that eager fans will be able to binge their way through all 13 episodes of the series in one go, saying:“On the evidence of the magnificent opening episode, that’s a giddily tempting proposition.”
And he advises British audiences that there’s nothing to fear from this “Americanised” House of Cards, which “adds up to something quite mesmerising and, already, addictive.”
Guardian critic John Crace also praised the new House of Cards, describing it as “stylistically and amorally faithful to the original”. He reserved particular praise for Spacey’s performance as Urquhart 2.0, Frank Underwood, lauding the actor for giving a “strong central performance” and not “bothering to recreate Richardson’s performance”.
Sarah Hughes of the Independent gave the show a four-star write up and called it “so much more than a television series”.
“It’s still a class act,” she wrote, “with a lovely central performance from Spacey, whose Underwood is a more restrained creation than Ian Richardson’s arch Francis Urquhart.
“And like all the best dramas this House of Cards works because it presents us with a believable, self-contained world that arrives fully formed on our screens.”
Esquire critic Stephen Marche said “the show itself is superb” and one "built to glut on and then to re-watch”.
“One of the most interesting things about the release of House of Cards is that you can watch the original BBC House of Cards right after the new one,” he wrote, adding: “You should, and not just because the original is totally brilliant. The comparison is illuminating as well.”
Across the Pond, Alessandra Stanley writing in the New York Times called House of a Cards a “clever American adaptation” with an “excellent cast”. Though she did find fault with the show’s pacing, describing it as “slow and oddly ponderous — a romp slowed down to a dirge.”
“There aren’t a lot of new twists in ‘House of Cards,’ she said. “Instead there is pleasure in watching Francis seem a saint while mostly he plays the devil.”
The LA Times’s Mary McNamara summed up House of Cards as “deliciously spiteful” and praised the show to the hilt, writing: “If the rest of the series is as good as the two episodes released early for review House of Cards will in all probability become the first nontelevised television show to receive an Emmy nomination, or four.”
Writing in the Huffington Post, Maureen Ryan emphasised the fact that, despite House of Cards being a Netflix exclusive, the show lacks none of the gloss of ‘proper’ TV dramas. “In the early going, it resembles the many other top-dollar cable productions we've seen in the last decade,” she wrote.
However, she did find some faults with the series. “Elements of the show are weak," she wrote, "verging on wince-inducing, especially scenes involving the employees of a DC newspaper.
“Just once, for the love of God, I'd like someone who knows how print and digital operations actually work to write scenes that make them seem interesting and fresh, and that don't involve female co-workers who are unable to resist petty catfights.”
She signed off her review on an ambivalent note, saying: “House of Cards is either the next logical step in scripted drama's decade-and-a-half-long exploration of anti-hero tropes, or it's a new platform taking shopworn ideas for one more expensive spin.”
But the most scathingly negative comments about House of Cards came from Hank Stuever writing in the Washington Post, who saw it as his “sad duty” to “rain on [the show’s] inaugural parade”.
“Although no expense has been spared, “House of Cards” appears to suffer from the same ambitious but weighty seriousness that afflicted Starz’s Boss.
“The cinematography is moody and gorgeous. The writing is broad. The arcs are wide. The corruption is all-consuming. The sympathetic characters are nonexistent. And most important, the lead actor is a known scenery-chewer.”
However, he conceded that “House of Cards is by no means a total disaster” and that “if your day has not already been consumed with Type A personalities inside the Beltway, then it may fall well within your definition of entertainment.”
Alll 13 episodes of the first series of House of Cards are now available to view via Netflix.