Originally published in The Bottom Line, March 4, 2015
If you have a Netflix account (or know someone who lets you use their Netflix account), then odds are you were counting down the days to Feb. 27. That date, of course, marked the premiere of Season 3 of House of Cards when all 13 episodes were made available on Netflix.
In the last two seasons, we watched in apprehensive awe as Frank Underwood deviously maneuvered his way to the top. Now “President Underwood,” Frank represents all that is cunning and dubious in his obsessive quest for power. Yet despite his underhanded deals, deceitful politics, and unethical behavior, we find ourselves unabashedly rooting for this political juggernaut. But why, in a country that consistently has 40 percent voter turnout, is this politically-charged show a national phenomenon?
House of Cards’ mass appeal to people who are typically disinterested in politics can largely be attributed to the backdoor world exposed in the show. I like to think our heads of state in the U.S. are more ethical than those in the show (not to say they are completely innocent, but I am fairly confident that murder cover-ups are not on the west wing’s monthly agenda), but House of Cards opens the back door to Washington, D.C. and allows us to imagine all of the unprincipled behavior that runs rampant. House of Cards feels like witnessing a conspiracy firsthand, unraveling the next great political scandal. The genius decision to break the fourth wall between the audience and the on-screen action, which allows Frank to direct his monologues toward the camera, furthers this feeling of back door politics. When he talks to the audience, you can’t help but feel as though you are in the President’s shadow witnessing every handshake, phone call, and internal struggle. This thrill of being exposed to the shady world of politics from the front lines undoubtedly keeps the non-political majority just as engaged.
The dark world of House of Cards is also deliciously devious, which strikes a chord with so many of the coveted 18-34 year old demographic. Frank Underwood’s Machiavellian outlook seems to personify what many of us struggle to balance. We are taught from a young age that if we want something, we must fight against all obstacles to get it no matter what. It is usually implied that murder and extremely immoral behavior are exceptions to this rule, though as we have seen, Frank Underwood has no exceptions. He will use anything and anyone in his way to get what he wants, and while that usually involves navigating outside of the law, we seem to be attracted to his shameless actions. While in real life we know there are some lines we will never cross, no matter what the reward may be, it is strangely satisfying to watch a man with no boundaries or morals chase his goals.
At the end of the day, Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood always keeps us coming back for more. As well-written and produced as a show maybe, there is no doubt that you need the right cast to ultimately sell the show. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright embody the sinister Underwoods so well that you can’t help but be entranced by their performances. So grab a rack of ribs from Freddy’s, possibly a cigarette, and curl up in bed to watch Season 3 of House of Cards, now streaming.