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Netflix original finds its groove

By Jingyuan Fu
On February 16, 2014

Cynicism is on the rise and television is its medium of choice. Beginning with "The Sopranos," the Third Golden Age has brought about a myriad of programs centered on white, middle-aged anti-heroes. The premise might vary a bit from show to show-the main character may be a drug dealer in one and a redneck sheriff in the next, but the basic joyless formula remains largely the same. "House of Cards," a Netflix original that began airing in February 2013, attempted to combine fashionable gloom with the moral ambiguity within the American political system.
This effort proved to be a huge critical success and received award nominations across the board. The writers were praised for their creation of an incredibly complex political world, the direction was touted for mirroring the pessimistic nature of the scripts with a style that emphasized grays and blacks and cast members Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright received acclaim for their portrayals of the central characters of the show. However, there was always a slight disconnect between what everyone wanted "House of Cards" to be-a masterfully dark political successor to "Breaking Bad" - and what it actually was: a slightly melodramatic program that often took itself too seriously.
Those who were hoping "House of Cards" would shift toward the highbrow in its second season are going to be disappointed - if anything, this show has slid even further into theatrical exaggeration. The season begins where the previous one had left off: protagonist Frank Underwood is about to be sworn in as Vice President. He remains unsatisfied with his station and takes the audience on a joy ride of schemes in order to achieve his final goal of becoming President. Spacey is once again in prime form in his portrayal, and has shifted his performance to match the more over-the-top feel of the second season. As in the first season, Underwood occasionally breaks the fourth wall in order to address the audience as if he's performing a Shakespearean soliloquy. The gimmick worked better in the satirical U.K. original version of the show, but it has improved in quality this season.
 Robin Wright's take on Frank's wife, Claire, only seems to improve as the show continues. She is a political wife pursuing her own agenda every bit as ruthlessly as her husband is. Her passion is hidden beneath a veneer of coolness that drops in temperature as the unsettling events of her past are unveiled. The other members of the supporting cast remain stellar as well, and there are a few welcome additions. Former "Deadwood" star Molly Parker, for example, plays Congresswoman Jacqueline Sharp, Underwood's ambitious new protégé, who willingly becomes a part of his machinations.
"House of Cards" has always been quite good, but much like protagonist Frank Underwood, its first season had a chip on its shoulder. Once it stopped overreaching in the second season and embraced its unrealistic plots, it became a much more watchable, polished product.

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