Tag Archives: House of Cards

Return of House of Cards stacks up

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright star in Season 2 of 'House of Cards.'

Robin Wright continues to fascinate in her Golden Globe-winning role opposite Kevin Spacey in Season 2 of ‘House of Cards,’ now streaming in its entirety on Netflix.

Season 2 of House of Cards, which began streaming in its 13-episode entirety Friday on Netflix, opens as House Majority Whip Francis “Frank” Underwood (Kevin Spacey) prepares to be sworn in as vice president of the United States (Secret Service codename: Little John). Frank’s ruthless path to this office has been a bloody one, and not just metaphorically: At the end of Season 1, Frank murdered a loose-cannon flunky, alcoholic Pennsylvania political hopeful Peter Russo, making it look like a suicide.
Even as Frank readies to claim his reward, however, his journalist adversaries – former mistress Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) and her Washington Herald newspaper colleagues Lucas Godwin (Sebastian Arcelus) and Janine Skorsky (Constance Zimmer) — have started to notice the holes in the story of Russo’s “suicide” and begun to connect the dots back to Frank. As they uncover more and more facts, they start to wonder: What if Frank had a hand in it?
And worse: What if Frank suspects that they suspect?
That’s really all the set-up you need to start Season 2, assuming you’ve already seen Season 1. As for these new episodes, suffice it to say that if you worried Season 2 was going to feel like an artificial continuation of the first 13 episodes simply to milk a ratings cow for Netflix, you can relax. If the first season caught some of us off-guard with its taut, intelligent writing and acting, Season 2 continues that dizzyingly complicated narrative organically and naturally. House of Cards signals that its second season is playing for keeps by bumping off a major character in the first episode, yet while these hours deliver a full quota of “WTF?!” moments, these aren’t the soapy over-the-top melodramatics that make ABC’s Scandal such a campy water-cooler hit.
Season 2 introduces several new characters, none more fascinating than Molly Parker’s electrifying turn as Jackie Sharp, the junior congresswoman whom Frank manages to maneuver into his old position as House Majority Whip. Frank clearly plans to use Jackie as his Congressional cat’s paw, but after screening several episodes (I’m about halfway through this new season), it’s starting to look as if Jackie may be nobody’s fool.
As enjoyable as the new characters are, however, there are other rewards in the form of older characters from Season 1 who resurface, usually eager to get revenge on Frank. The House of Cards writers have done a superb job of interweaving these old characters with the newcomers, and it gives me a headache to imagine all the storyline diagrams that must be hanging on the walls of the writers room.
Of course, this thriller about a modern-day Macbeth and his Lady wouldn’t work without its two main stars, Spacey and Robin Wright, who won a Golden Globe Award for her work in Season 1 as Claire Underwood. Spacey’s performance is spot-on, but somehow it’s just not all that surprising to me: We’ve seen this Oscar-winning actor deliver multiple variations on this sly, manipulating bastard before now.
Wright, however, is a revelation in her every scene. Hers is a very subtle performance, but it’s one that suggests roiling tensions firmly tamped down under Claire’s icy blonde exterior. We learn quite a bit more about Claire Underwood and her turbulent past in Season 2 and, while it doesn’t give the character a gooey center, it does suggest that, at some point, this female glacier is going to melt in a very interesting way.
Like a great, sprawling novel, House of Cards just keeps getting richer and more provocative the deeper you venture into it. I advise you to set aside several hours before sitting down to view it. You may not plan to “binge-watch” these 13 episodes, but you’re going to find it very hard to stop once you start.
Molly Parker joins the second season of 'House of Cards' on Netflix.

The exceptional Moily Parker joins Season 2 of ‘House of Cards’ as junior U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Sharp, who replaces Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as the House Majority Whip.

Caution: ‘Hemlock Grove’ may be toxic to thrill-seekers

Bill Skarsgard and Landon Liboiron
Hemlock Grove, an original 13-part series that begins streaming today in its entirety on Netflix, is the service’s first foray into the horror genre, but despite the presence of Eli Roth (Hostel) at the helm, genuine shivers very rarely materialize.
Maybe it’s because its predecessor, House of Cards, was such an audacious dazzler, or because most of us impatiently are champing at the bit to see the long-awaited new season of Arrested Development due to start streaming in May, but based on the first three episodes Netflix made available for review, Hemlock Grove feels like little more than a listless place-holder.
Based on a novel of the same name by Brian McGreevy, who’s an executive producer on this TV adaptation, the series opens with the brutal murder of Brooke Bluebell (Lorenza Izzo), a beautiful high school cheerleader en route to a covert nighttime hook-up with her lesbian science teacher when she is savagely attacked and partly eaten by something horrifying. As in most werewolf movies, the attack initially is blamed on a large animal of some kind, but in this very weird semi-rural Pennsylvania town, human suspects aren’t exactly scarce.
Among them is Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard, brother of Alexander from True Blood and Gustaf of the current Vikings), a handsome, ruthless preppie who cuts quite a sexual swath through the females of his community. Roman is the future heir to a family fortune that we see tangibly in the form of the Godfrey Institute for Biomedical Research, a sinister local think tank nicknamed The White Tower. Roman’s late father, J.R. Godfrey (Paul Popowich), bitterly blamed researchers there for having a hand somehow in the sad plight of his other child, Roman’s sister, Shelley (Nicole Boivin), a mute giantess who causes electrical sparks in times of distress. (To save time, let me assure you right here that I am not making up any of this stuff).
J.R. “committed suicide” while having a confrontation with his beautiful and enigmatic wife, Olivia (former Bond girl Famke Janssen), who was having an affair with J.R.’s brother, Norman (Dougray Scott). That affair is still in progress when Hemlock Grove opens, but Norman, a psychiatrist, feels positively lousy about it and frequently clashes (while dressed) with Olivia over the projects at their institute. He’s also not very happy to learn that his own daughter, Letha (Penelope Mitchell), is pregnant, allegedly by an angel. Seriously.
About the same time the murder occurs, gypsies Peter and Lynda Rumancek (Landon Liboiron, Lily Taylor) have moved to town and taken up residence in a relative’s abandoned trailer. Almost as soon as they meet at school, Roman senses something odd about Peter and begins to suspect that he’s a werewolf who killed Brooke. Peter, meanwhile, tells his mother that he’s pretty sure Roman is something called an Upir, a vampire spirit that historically has been bad news for gypsies. Against all odds, however, the two young men become friends, especially after they discover they have been having the same dream about a serpent devouring its own tail.
To report more would be to spoil the fairly meager surprises that pop up all too infrequently in this yarn. Maybe I was just too distracted by all the apparent plot holes and/or continuity gaffes to be drawn into the story.
For example, as the first murder is in progress, the victim inadvertently hits a speed dial button on her cellphone, calling her teacher-lover, who listens aghast to Brooke’s dying screams. During the investigation, the local cops note that the phone had been on when they found the corpse, yet no one ever bothers to talk to the last person called on the device. Later, when deputies find Roman and Peter hanging out near the small playhouse structure where the killing occurred, they angrily complain that the boys are disturbing a crime scene, yet there is no yellow crime-scene tape or other barriers around to keep away intruders.
As investigators warily begin to consider the unlikely prospect that a werewolf – or at least someone who believes he is a werewolf – might be behind the killing, one of them, Dr. Clementine Chasseur (Kandyse McClure), encounters a shirtless Peter and remarks on how hairy he is (sometimes regarded as a signifier of a werewolf in human form). Problem is, apart from long locks, some beard scruff and very light chest fuzz, Liboiron ISN’T notably hairy.
For a scene that takes place in a new age-y head shop run by a gypsy, the storefront exterior features a huge window sign advertising “Medicinal Marijuana” inside, which I’m not convinced you would likely find in a smallish conservative Pennsylvania town (Hemlock Grove actually was filmed in Ontario, Canada).
As for the performances, in the three episodes I saw, only Liboiron delivers consistently strong work. He’s so relaxed and thoroughly “present” in all of his scenes, however preposterous they are, that the show wakes up anytime he’s on-screen. Props, too, to young Skarsgard, reared in Sweden, for generally maintaining a credible American accent. I’m still trying to decide whether Janssen’s vaguely British accent is an acting choice she made to underscore Olivia’s exotic strangeness to those around her or whether it’s a plot point that will be revealed in a later episode.
I haven’t read McGreevy’s novel, so I can’t fairly judge how many of the problems in Hemlock Grove originated in his manuscript, but there’s certainly enough blame to go around. Maybe, just maybe, things turn around in the later 10 episodes I haven’t seen, but three episodes in, the series is woefully lacking in urgency or any compelling reason for me to stick around to find out.