SPOILER FREE REVIEW — Supergirl Pilot

(100th post!!! Ahhhh!!!)

Before I watch this episode that the world-renowned Anonymous Donor has commissioned me to review, I just want to say that I have no idea what I think about this show. I have not watched any trailers, leaked footage, nada. I made a choice some time ago to see the show only in its intended episodic form, not truncated or packaged promotionally.

And the reviews I’ve seen (headlines are unavoidable on Facebook) appear to be polarizing. I know that when the trailer came out, lots of people mocked it for being exactly like the SNL Black Widow movie trailer except without the irony, while others were adamant that that is the whole POINT of Supergirl, that she is “just a regular girl” with mundane girl concerns and mundane girl interests, who just happens to have superpowers. And that the show is trying to make a point that being a girly girl or being feminine is not a weakness; you can be a girl’s girl AND a superhero! Of course, my concern with that is that in their efforts to make Supergirl an Everygirl, the showrunners may forget to give her a unique personality and have her be more of a cipher than a character.

I’m also not sure what to expect of Melissa Benoist, whose character on Glee was pretty much the dictionary definition of “bland.” That may not have been her fault (the character was definitely weakly written) but put it this way: when Grant Gustin was cast as the Flash, I was thrilled because he was FABULOUS on Glee and I was excited to see what he’d do. Melissa Benoist, not particularly. I did like her in Whiplash, though, and her role in that movie was to represent ordinariness and normalcy in contrast to Miles Teller’s character’s obsessive pursuit of extraordinariness and greatness, so if that will be her job on Supergirl, to be normal and ordinary, she’ll probably pull it off just fine. I just hope it won’t be boring.

Basically, I’m not sure what to expect, what point the show is going to try to make or whether it will be any good at making it. I’m not prepared. Well, I’m prepared to be conflicted. That’s about it.

 

* * *

 

WELL. I guess it turns out that I did have expectations, because this was wayyyyyy better than I thought it was going to be.

First off, Melissa Benoist is perfect here as Kara, aka Supergirl. She has more life and verve in this role than she ever had a chance to showcase on Glee. Yes, the show does do the typical thing of making her kinda clumsy and awkward, but — take note, Aaron Sorkin and Newsroom staff — never incompetent. She has more passion and enthusiasm than I was expecting from an Everygirl character, which give her excellent screen presence. She is not boring. She cares deeply about things, from her job dissatisfaction to her newfound crush to her reverence for Superman to her relationship with her sister to her own heroics to her confusion over her place in the world. Yes, many of these things are mundane Everygirl concerns, but rather than turning her into a cipher or a Mary Sue, the effect is not that I project myself onto her, but rather that she feels like her own entity, definitely a full person, but one that I’d like to be friends with because we have some things in common. That scene on the couch with her squeeing over seeing her heroics covered on TV for the first time — total bff material.

I also love that they didn’t just make the protagonist female only to surround her with a mostly male ensemble, as is far too common. There seem to be two main ladies aside from Kara — a fantastic Calista Flockhart as Kara’s boss, and Chyler Leigh (Lexie from Grey’s Anatomy! With short hair!) as Kara’s sister — and don’t look now but the main villain appears to be female as well. There are also a number of background/one-line characters who could easily have been male but aren’t. The episode probably passes the infamous Bechdel test half a dozen times, easily. And even the clichéd “freaking out over what to wear on a date” scene isn’t really about the date or the dude; it’s about the supportive and reciprocal relationship Kara has with her sister. There are a couple of male regulars too, but they seem to be ancillary and side-kicky in relation to the women, who are the real driving forces of the show. It’s a flipped gender dynamic that is all too rare and therefore very refreshing. To me, at least.

I don’t want to get spoilery, so I’m not going to go into detail about the plot. Suffice it to say, baddies show up and comic-booky fighting ensues at some point, growing more and more prominent as the episode goes on. In my opinion, that’s the weakest thing about this pilot; I would have preferred to see more of Kara in her real life and her relationships with the other characters, because those were interesting and nuanced, whereas right now, these villains seem to just be flat and capital-E Evil because . . . they’re evil? EEEEEEVIIIIILLLLLL. *maniacal cackle*

 

for teh evulz

 

Also, I gotta say, Kara’s coworker who keeps trying to hit on her is kind of a jerk. Not a fan of him. I mean, at one point he mistakenly thinks she’s about to tell him she’s a lesbian and is like “so THAT’S why you were never into me!” Dude, no. The default setting on girls is not “into you unless lesbian.” Sorry not sorry to burst your bubble. Just no.

And the special effects are hokey. Probably the worst of the Arrow-Flash-Supergirl triumvirate. Wonder why that is. Different budgets? Different production companies? More challenging scenarios? Who knows.

So — the million dollar question — is the show empowering? Or *gasp* feminist? 

Well, purely by virtue of it being populated by multiple female characters who consistently interact with each other in meaningful ways, unrelated to the male characters, it is as feminist and empowering as almost any shows I’ve seen this side of a Shonda Rimes production. There are definitely some moments that ring false, like when a character heavy-handedly says, “A female hero! Someone my daughter can look up to,” but overall, it’s a solid start. And if the showrunners catch onto the fact that allowing multiple women to take center stage and go about their business is being feminist, and that waving your arms all, “HEY LOOK AT US BEING ALL FEMINIST OVER HERE!!!1!!” is not so much, there’s hope for it to get even better in that department.

Have you seen the Supergirl pilot? What did you think? Feel free to disagree with me in the comments 🙂

 

 

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REVIEW — Supernatural, “Swan Song” (Season 5 finale)

This is a wayyyyyyy overdue review for Marsha L., who generously donated and sponsored it months ago. (Commissioned post #5 out of…I’ve totally lost count; there are a lot now.) SPOILERS AHOY!!!

I was only in season 3 at the time that this was sponsored, and I was watching along with my favorite reviewer/blogger Mark Oshiro of www.markwatches.net (check him out!), so that accounts for some of the delay. But then I finally got up to this episode when Mark reached it at least a month and a half ago, but I still didn’t watch it because I was super busy and wanted to sit down and watch it with my full attention, so as to properly review it. And by the time I had a chance to do that, I had practically forgotten what was going on in the season and decided that before watching the finale, I should rewatch the previous episode, Two Minutes to Midnight, so I wouldn’t be totally lost.

 

Aaaaand…I kinda wish I hadn’t done that.

 

Because as I was watching the finale, I realized that a big problem I had with it was that I found the setup so much more interesting than the payoff.

 

See, the past few seasons have been constantly introducing new and fascinating elements that expand upon the universe of Supernatural, flesh out its very nature, and what tasks have been set for our heroes.

 

Non-comprehensive list of super intriguing elements introduced in the past couple of seasons:

 

  • Angels exist
  • Angels are actually jerkfaces who want to bring the apocalypse
  • God exists
  • God is actually a jerkface who doesn’t want to help stop the apocalypse
  • Castiel has become a rogue angel and gradually loses his powers
  • The trickster from earlier years is actually the angel Gabriel
  • The archangel Michael wants Dean as his vessel
  • The devil, Lucifer, wants Sam as his vessel
  • John Winchester had another son, who died
  • jk, the angels totes brought him back as a substitute vessel
  • There’s this dude named Chuck who’s written a bazillion books on the Winchester adventures, including stuff that he can’t possibly know, thinking it’s all fiction he’s inventing
  • Chuck is actually a Prophet of the Lord and sees what will happen to the Winchesters before it happens
  • The four horsemen of the apocalypse exist
  • The four horsemen are actually superpowered dudes who wear rings and drive awesome Mustangs (because HORSES, geddit??)
  • The four rings from the four horsemen can put Lucifer back in his devil-cage in hell
  • Both Sam and the Death the Horseman think the only chance to get Lucifer back in his cage is for Sam to allow Lucifer to possess him, and then overpower Lucifer’s possession enough to jump into the cage

 

…and that’s what you missed on Glee! Er, Supernatural!

 

All these elements are firmly established going into the Season 5 finale, because, as Marsha told me when she sponsored this review, this is what the writers have been building toward for 5 seasons. And I understand that, I understand that this episode already has all the pieces laid out on the table and is just moving them around.

 

But that doesn’t change the fact that after all the fantastic developments we get in the preceding seasons, and even the preceding episode, we don’t learn anything nearly as new or intriguing here. Honestly, that 5-minute scene between Dean and Death the Horseman in Two Minutes to Midnight was more compelling to me than just about anything that happened in the finale.

 

I am NOT saying that the finale wasn’t entertaining (it was!), that it wasn’t immensely watchable (it was!), or that nothing surprising happens in this episode at all (it did — for instance, Lucifer knowing about the Winchesters’ plans with the horsemen’s rings and Dean’s “oh crap we are so screwed” face was a definite highlight). But the surprises are all on a plot level, regarding what is happening; the whys of everything remain just as opaque as before. There are no lightbulb moments, no epiphanies. Our level of understanding of why this is all happening is the same going into the episode as it is coming out. It doesn’t add up to anything more than a bunch of things that had to happen so that there would be a TV show.

 

Still, okay. It’s a TV show, an entertaining ride of conflict, resolution, drama, and humor — that’s what I signed up for, I guess. Ideally, the show could aim higher, considering the vast realm of religion and mythology that it has chosen to use as its playground, but it falls short of that. I get that sometimes as a writer, you bite off more than you can chew, set up more than you can pay off, and as a TV writer, you’re under a special kind of pressure to keep churning out episodes, and if there’s an arc and you think of something great later, it’s not like you can go back and plant it in earlier episodes, because they’ve already aired, so your continuity may suffer more than the continuity of a novel or a movie, which can be edited as a finished product before any of it is released to the public. So things in serialized TV often come out as less than that fabulous lofty ideal. I get that.

 

But what bothers me so much more than that is the fact that the writers KNOW it doesn’t add up, and they actively dismiss the viewers’ perfectly legitimate potential complaints about it, right there in the show. I’m referring, of course, to this monologue by Chuck the Prophet (whose narration in this episode I initially adored but eventually found problematic for several reasons, which I am about to enumerate):

 

“Any chapped-ass monkey with a keyboard can poop out a beginning, but endings are impossible. You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can. The fans are always gonna bitch. There’s always gonna be holes. And since it’s the ending, it’s all supposed to add up to something. I’m telling you, they’re a raging pain in the ass.”

 

Oh em gee, fans are so annoying, amirite? Them and their perfectly valid analyses and critiques of our storytelling and plotting and endings that mean they spent at least as much time thinking about the show as we did. Jeez, stop thinking, sheeple! Just worship unquestioningly at the altar of our creativity! Feel for us! We worked hard on this show, dammit!

 

 

It’s not the most audience-condescending monologue that I’ve ever seen on a TV show (that medal still goes to Aaron Sorkin and his thoroughly gratuitous diatribe against fandom [“that’s not being a fan; that’s having a fetish”] through Josh Lyman on The West Wing), but it’s in the top two. I mean, fall short and have a subpar finale if you must, but sheesh, be less obvious and defensive about it. Don’t complain about how hard endings are and how hard writing is; this is literally your job and no one wants to hear you whine about it. Of course finales come with expectations. Suck it up!

 

 

 

Naturally, this activated my contrarianism. I might possibly have been more forgiving if I hadn’t been told directly by the writers that I should be forgiving. As it is, I now feel more justified in complaining a bit more, so sit tight!

 

My two main complaints, one of which is even broken down into subcategories:

 

Problems with Chuck’s narration

  1. Insults audience for critiquing. Bad, show. BAD.
  2. Turns the car into the ultimate symbol of Winchester brotherhood by talking about stuff we’ve never seen on the show before, like the toy soldier stuck in the car door, the initials carved into the car, etc. I love car porn as much (or possibly more) than the next guy, but we’ve seen this car in every episode for 5 years and the writers couldn’t think of one previously established thing about it that could actually carry the emotional weight they’re slapping together and shoehorning in here at the last second? It feels like telling instead of showing. It feels lazy. It feels like a retcon to try and squeeze emotion from a place that doesn’t really have it in the way the writers want it to, and I was not impressed.
  3. It spells out the incredibly uninspired lesson of the whole shindig in this other monologue:

“So, what’s it all add up to? It’s hard to say. But me, I’d say this was a test… for Sam and Dean. And I think they did all right. Up against good, evil, angels, devils, destiny, and God himself, they made their own choice. They chose family. And, well… isn’t that kinda the whole point?”

 

 

Seriously? It was about choosing family? Wow. You know what other episode of Supernatural was about choosing family?

What’s that you say? “Every damn episode”? That is correct.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with a moral of choosing family first in the face of dire danger. But in the context of this show, it’s deeply unsurprising because we’ve seen it so many times and expect nothing less. Having no narration would have been an improvement on pretending that this particular lesson is some kind of ultimate meaning.

In fact, having no narration at all would fix all these problems, and I do think that the car stuff could have been done better by using unnarrated flashbacks. But they’ve done that before and this is a season finale so the narration is the writers’ way of doing something new and different stylistically just for that, regardless of whether previously-used techniques would work better.

 

  1. Problems with the whole destiny thing

 

This, to be fair, is a problem I have with a lot of shows, and it’s more of a whole season problem than just this episode. Essentially, I don’t like being lied to about how much you planned for something, writers. I know and you know that you didn’t plan plenty of it, that you made up a lot of stuff as you went along — as I said before, it’s a reality of episodic TV, you have to work quickly, you can’t plan that far ahead, and you certainly can’t go back and set things up if you just came up with some new brilliant idea or new character, and I accept that! What I don’t accept is when a show lies to me about it, pretends that this was totally the plan all along yessireebob.

Angel did this a lot in later seasons and it bugged me, and it bugs me here too, every time that the angels or Lucifer claim that this is how it was always meant to be, that brother was always meant to fight brother, and especially that Azazel chose Sam for Lucifer and the devil has been keeping tabs on Sam through demon spies for his entire life because he is Lucifer’s ultimate vessel — gimme a break. Azazel put Sam in that Hunger Games thing at the end of Season 2, yes? The one where Sam DIED? There was nothing special about Sam then, not any more special than the other demon-blood children — he was expendable, one of many potentials. If Dean hadn’t brought Sam back with his crossroads deal, presumably whoever survived that survival-of-the-fittest contest would have been deemed Lucifer’s vessel. But did all of them have brothers that Michael could have inhabited to fight Lucifer, as per the brother-vs-brother destiny? What if Lucifer’s vessel had been a woman? WHAT THEN, SHOW.

Basically, you have to scrap anything that happened before a certain point if you want this destiny thing to make sense, unless you modify it and say that yeah, Sam was one potential and now he’s the only one left. But that’s not what the show did. It lied and retconned, and hoped that we would conveniently forget about the not-making-sense part, or figured that they could say, “WE’RE not saying that Sam was the plan all along; the ANGELS are! And LUCIFER! Can’t trust those douchefaces; of course they’re lying. Don’t blame us!” Weak, writers. Very weak. I’m fine with you pulling things out of your posteriors once in a while; just don’t lie to me about it.

 

 

Again, I don’t want you to finish this review thinking that I hated the finale. I definitely didn’t hate it; it’s just not an episode I feel compelled to rewatch anytime soon because there are so many episodes leading up to it that I enjoyed more. And I’m very glad that the show didn’t end here, because if it had, I’d have been disappointed, because this is not a great ending.

 

For the record, it is absolutely 100% better to have excellent setup and so-so payoff than to have poor setup and epic payoff. I disliked the book Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for that reason — it was 600 pages of setup and 200 pages of payoff, and the setup was so uninteresting to me and such a chore to get through because it felt like I was just waiting and waiting and waiting for something to finally happen, and then it finally did, and it was good payoff, but I remember none of it, because all I remember was how bored I was for most of it and how I kept waiting for it to get good.

 

With Supernatural, I’m sure that in a few years I won’t remember the specifics of the plot of these past few seasons, but what I will remember is how fascinated I was by the gradual expansion of its fictional universe with all the new and surprising elements that caught my interest, and I’ll remember the characters and their dynamics, and I’ll remember liking so many more episodes than not, and I’d say that’s definitely a win for any show.

 

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The Newsroom — Season 1 Review

I started off my very first post by saying, “I have so many preconceived notions about this show I have never watched. LET ME SHOW THEM TO YOU.”

I then listed my preconceived notions, and now I’m going to go through that list and back each one up with evidence from the show, now that I’ve actually watched it.

“First, the good:

1)   It’s an Aaron Sorkin show. To me, this means super slick, rapid-fire dialogue that makes you feel smarter for having heard it, even if you only partially understood it. Sorkin shows know how to build drama, create moral dilemmas, and crack incredibly funny jokes. I loved Sorkin’s previous shows: Sports Night, The West Wing, and even Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which I don’t think anyone else liked even though Bradley Whitford has the most adorable dimples on the planet. I loved his movies: A Few Good Men, The Social Network, and Moneyball, although there was way too much silence in that movie to have been written by Sorkin alone (he co-wrote it).

Um, that was kind of my only thing on the list.”

This show did not live up to the previous standards set by other Sorkin works. I chalk this up mainly to the fact that in this show, he consistently shied away from actually discussing the issues he was claiming to be discussing. In The West Wing, at least from the few seasons I’ve seen, the show was not afraid to have an issue or political scenario hashed out in excruciating detail in long, in-depth scenes. It did not muddy the waters with relationship drama that completely overshadows the hardcore issues being addressed. And it was not afraid to have the characters be very smart and well-meaning but occasionally wrong at the same time. The Newsroom is afraid to depict any of the characters as being wrong; they are constantly self-justifying, and the show backs them up by having everything always work out just right. As I pointed out in my review of “Bullies,” the only moment on the show that lived up to that standard was the interview with Sutton Wall, where Will was being self-righteous and narrow-minded and had his head handed to him, like he deserved. And I can’t even give Sorkin credit for that because as I mentioned in that post, Sutton Wall is basically using the exact words of Robert Traynham.

“The bad:

1)   My brother’s a journalist and he hates this show, because it’s about a news team covering actual historic events, but the writer of the show has the benefit of hindsight, which any actual reporters at the time did not have. Which is obviously irksome to a journalist in a similar way that Grey’s Anatomy is irritating to doctors — it’s unrealistic and creates distorted perceptions of the profession. I personally enjoy Grey’s Anatomy most of the time, because I am not a doctor. I’m not a journalist either, so I’m pretty sure this won’t bother me the same way it bothers my brother.”

I’m still not a journalist, but I can absolutely see how this show is incredibly unfair to journalists, due to the hindsight factor. Yes, ideally, no one should have reported Gabrielle Giffords to be dead when she wasn’t, but telling us that and berating all the news networks that got it wrong is not very impressive when you’re making your show two years after the fact. We all know that the coverage of the Boston Bombing was abysmal, but it got sorted out eventually and there were a few news outlets that got it right the first time, just like with Gabrielle Giffords, so it’s really not the huge deal the show makes it out to be. (Except the Post identifying the wrong suspects. That could have ended badly, but fortunately it didn’t. Most shoddy coverage has no lasting effects, however. Hence not a big deal.) Also, the recapper at the Huffington Post points out that Will’s mission statement is hardly any different from other actual current cable newspeople. The show bothers me intensely with its inflated sense of its own importance and uniqueness.

2)   “Also because of hindsight, my brother tells me, the show gets preachy and sanctimonious, because of what the writer, Sorkin, thinks ought to have happened regarding these actual real-world events being depicted. I can handle a little preachiness (all Sorkin shows are a bit preachy and message-oriented), but too much gets on my nerves.”

Holy lord, was this show preachy. It’s like Sorkin doesn’t trust anyone to put any pieces together themselves; he has to spell it out for you. I cannot tell you how much I prefer the Daily Show’s strategy of pulling up a clip or a soundbyte and letting the viewer realize for him or herself why that politician or other newsmaker was being absurd or hypocritical or just stupid. A lot of people apparently liked Will’s whole spiel in the finale about the Tea Party being the American Taliban, but I felt like it was so over-the-top and condescending that I could not stop rolling my eyes at it.

3)   “Since The Social Network, Sorkin has kind of become a target for ridicule and criticism regarding his portrayals of female characters. In fact, the AfterElton recaps that I skimmed when the show was on the air sometimes had headlines like, “The 5 Worst Lady Blunders From Last Night’s ‘Newsroom,’” which contained lines like: “Aaron Sorkin‘s way of establishing [this female character’s] flaws are condescending and unbelievable.” I am not in the business of mind reading and I have no idea if Sorkin is an especially sexist man. I’d like to believe he isn’t. He has a daughter. Female characters on The West Wing like CJ Cregg and Ainsley Hayes were quite awesome. But is it possible for character portrayals to be sexist even if the writer himself is not sexist? I think yes, personally. If female characters are consistently more irritating/incompetent/shrill/underdeveloped/overly sexualized than the men, then that’s a sexist portrayal of women (I know, we have a lot of demands for our fictional representation; deal with it). This can be the case even if the writer doesn’t personally hate or disrespect women. I’ll probably be more sensitive to this while watching The Newsroom than I would be otherwise, since I know about this controversy.”

Well, the women in this show were pretty uniformly awful. But you know what? So were the men. It’s hard to call the show anti-women when it’s actually a lot worse than that — it’s anti-human. All the major characters suck, regardless of gender. They are all ruled by their love lives, they are all repeating the same patterns over and over, they are all maddeningly self-righteous, they are all often or at least occasionally professionally incompetent, and see my previous post for more detail on this. But yes, we never got to see a single woman come up with a great, innovative solution to a problem. Men are given professional supremacy throughout the show, even though Mac is supposedly in a position of authority and expertise.

4)   “I’ve heard that the villains in the show are often one-dimensional straw men, and Professor Dunphy’s comments in class reinforced that idea. I know that sometimes it’s very satisfying to root against a totally evil villain and watch him fall, but I really enjoyed the nuanced and often sympathetic opposition portrayed in The West Wing and thought it made the show feel more honest and rich.”

Simply put, the show needed more Sutton Walls. The Tea Party is the easiest target anywhere, and watching it being blasted week after week was not at all dramatically satisfying. I wanted more of the other side, and I understand that in the case of the Tea Party, there may not be another side, but then I want to know the reasoning of the people who are voting for them. An episode about THAT would have been interesting. As would an episode with a different target. What made The West Wing so great was that the issues changed every week and the opposition changed and nothing ever felt like a retread of what had already been done; each episode found something new and fascinating to explore. The opposition almost always had viewpoints worth hearing that would make you look at things just a little differently. I sometimes find it hard to believe that this show gets wrong everything that The West Wing got right.

I have one last major criticism that I only developed after watching the show for a while, and I summed it up in my Episode 8 review like this:

“And then there’s the show’s blatant hypocrisy and double standards about what is worth watching — evidently it’s okay for the SHOW to be melodramatic and focused on petty relationship struggles, because that’s “entertainment,” but the news is obviously different because the news shouldn’t be entertainment. What the show fails to grasp is that it’s undermining its own message by using the same emotionally manipulative techniques that it accuses the news of using. It’s saying higher standards are important, and then proceeds to scrape the bottom of the barrel with tawdry relationship drama, as if it doesn’t trust the viewers to keep watching unless it pulls all those lowbrow tricks out of its bag. Result is that I feel cheated and condescended to, and wish the show would just be more intelligent and more interesting without trying to play to the lowest common denominator.”

The hypocrisy also includes the fact that the show claims to condemn fear-mongering, yet it simultaneously calls the Tea Party things like “the American Taliban” and manufactures a secret source from inside the NSA to warn us about the government’s invasive and violating practices of wiretapping and interception of private communications and how this will spell the end of the civilization as we know it. Textbook fear-mongering. You can’t have it both ways.

I think these are all fundamental issues with the show, and the reasons I will not be watching next season.

Final Rating for the season: 2.5/5

The Newsroom — Character Evaluation Post

I’ve been dreading this assignment all semester long, because apparently I’m supposed to write 500 words on one single character from The Newsroom, when one of my major gripes about the show is that I don’t like the characters and that they don’t change in significant ways and just repeat themselves over and over again to the point where they are utterly predictable. You know, that whole definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? That’s basically every character. Until maybe the season finale when a couple of them tried something different just because someone must have sent them a memo that it was the season finale and they should stop pulling the same old crap.

 

I can just picture it:

 

Network executive: “Y’know what we were thinking would be great? If you could have these characters behave in a way we haven’t seen before. Like, have an arc. Make progress.”

Aaron Sorkin: “Like what?”

Exec: “Well, you could have Maggie stop being an annoying wide-eyed idiot who’s in denial about her feelings for Jim and have her break up with Don for good this time?”

Sorkin: “Hmmm. I see what you’re saying. Maybe the denial part could change a bit. But we can’t have her break up with Don. She’s far too insecure to leave a man, and besides, we need to have that in place for next season or I might have to come up with an entirely new storyline for her.”

Exec: “Ah. Flawless reasoning. Well, maybe then you could have Jim stop being such a sad sack and actually try to move on with his life?”

Sorkin: “No, don’t you understand? Sad sackiness is Jim’s entire appeal. He has like nothing else going for him. Ladies love sad sacks. Take that away and he’ll be just another boring dude.”

Exec: “Well, I’m sure you know what the ladies like; far be it from us to question that. So never mind Jim and Maggie. How about Mac? Do you think maybe you could have her work on getting her meltdowns under control?”

Sorkin: “But that’s what makes her relatable to the viewers. No one can empathize with a coolly professional, endlessly competent woman — it’s all her constant screw-ups that earn sympathy, and her hysterics are adorable.”

Exec: “But do you really think it’s realistic that a person so prone to hysterics in stressful situations would have been able to earn two Peabody awards for work in Afghanistan?”

Sorkin: “Hmm, what did you say? Sorry, I was counting my money.”

Exec: “Maybe her hysterics are a manifestation of PTSD. That could be explored, right? In therapy? You like putting characters in therapy, right? Will MacAvoy in this show, Josh Lyman on The West Wing. . .”

Sorkin: “I suppose. Maybe next season. But Mac in therapy would take time away from Will’s therapy screen-time, and Will’s the main character so we can’t have that.”

Exec: “But it would be a great excuse to have more David Krumholtz on the show!”

Sorkin: “Can’t argue with that. Ladies love David Krumholtz.”

 

 

Basically, the only character that seemed to have a substantial arc was Will. Two basic arcs, personal and professional.

Professionally, he started off in the first two minutes of the show being blandly inoffensive, then exploded and we saw his true opinions on the state of American journalism, then was convinced by Mac to become a crusader for the Greater Good of News. This held true for the entire season, where every episode was essentially more of the same of this idea of Better News, whether that meant bashing the Tea Party or insulting people for watching trashy reality TV, until the season finale, where Will was forced to doubt the effectiveness of his actions for this cause. That lasted about half the episode before he returned with renewed conviction. The finale also contrives to show him that he is having his desired effect by bringing back a character from the beginning of the show who has now been inspired and fundamentally changed because of Will’s proselytizing. So this arc was designed to test Will’s beliefs and reaffirm them. Kind of like high school was for me, not a transformative experience but more of a, “Yup, I was right all along. Glad I never have to go through THAT again.”

Personally, he started off insisting that whatever he and Mac had in the past was completely and utterly over and that he hates her to the point of taking a pay cut in order to ensure that he can fire her any time he wants, although it is obvious to the viewers that he will never fire her and that he has unresolved feelings for her that he sucks at dealing with because he’s a repressed, arrogant jerk who will never admit to weakness, and forgiveness is weakness. Will thrives on self-righteous anger. I am of the opinion that if no one in the world ever did anything wrong or stupid again, Will would implode for sheer lack of anyone to lambaste and feel superior to. I can’t say I don’t understand that — life is easier when you feel like you have a better handle on the world than the people around you — but it’s not pleasant or entertaining to watch, at least not in the way it’s been portrayed here.

Will makes incremental progress on his relationship with Mac throughout the season, progress that is so incremental that it often seems completely frustratingly absent. It’s clearest when Will confronts his psychiatrist, David Krumholtz, toward the end of the season and demands, “Why can’t I forgive her?” At that point, he had heard enough apologies and been around Mac long enough to know that he still has feelings for her and she still has feelings for him and that they might still be able to have a relationship, and part of him wants to forgive her, but he can’t. And by the end of the season, it’s unclear if he has still not forgiven her or if he is simply too proud to tell her.

So sad, y’all. And yet I completely lack sympathy for Will. I’ve talked about this with my brother and we can’t figure out if it’s the writing or the acting — is the character just so fundamentally obnoxious that no matter what Jeff Daniels does as an actor, he can’t make him sympathetic? Or is Daniels’ completely warmth-less performance partially to blame? Or maybe it’s because I just can’t stand Mac and can’t root for anyone to be with her.

 

The crux of the matter remains this: as with the rest of the show, the characterization contains a lot of interesting ideas. Sorkin is an incredibly talented, smart, articulate, witty guy — let that be stated for the record. But in this show, his ideas, in plot and character, never cohere into a satisfying and entertaining whole. As Alan Sepinwall of HitFix.com puts it: “I understand wanting to believe in the message here. I just wish I didn’t dislike so many of the messengers.”

REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 10 — “The Greater Fool”

Huzzah, it’s the last episode! FINALLY!! I’ll never have to watch another hour of this show EVER AGAIN! *fires confetti cannons* I’m gonna get ice cream and bake cookies I have no idea how to bake and run into the streets singing and hug strangers and, and —

Um, I mean. I’m going to sit here, watch, and critique this episode in a calm, professional manner.

*surreptitiously brushes off confetti*

Ahem.

 

 

—   Will is on the air talking about how all the news programs are DOING IT WRONG. Well, that’s a note this show has never struck before.

—   Flashback to 8 days earlier (non-linear storyline alert!): Will seems to be missing from his apartment. This is a problem because there is still a DEATH THREAT out there, and he didn’t take his bodyguard to wherever it is he went. Will, you’re a stupidhead.

—   Wait, no, there’s a trail of blood! Ooh! Please tell me he got shot and is unable to be on the show anymore — hang on, no, he’s on the show 8 days later plus there’s a second season coming out in July with Jeff Daniels on the posters. Scratch that idea for improving the show. Will, you’re still a stupidhead for not having your bodyguard around. How did this happen?

—   They find him in the bathroom, covered in fairly small amounts of blood. Mac shrieks, “Billy!” and it took me a second to realize she was referring to Will because she has never, ever called him that before.

—   Oh, boo, nobody shot him, it was just a bleeding ulcer.

—   Doctor’s asking about Will’s medical history and Mac is shocked to learn he’s on anti-depressants, even though if anyone on the planet needed some Prozac, it’s Will MacAvoy.

—   Apparently Will overdosed on anti-depressants because he was super depressed because Reporter-ex-Brian did a “hatchet job” with his article about the show. “Well, THAT was a shock,” said no one ever. Will, see bullet points 2 and 3 re: “stupidhead.” (Please don’t think I’m not mocking depression; depression is a serious thing and this show does it a disservice by having characters do blatantly stupid things that backfire on them and cause a sudden depressive downspin, just for the sake of season finale drama.)

—   Flash forward to Will anchoring the news again. Talking about Dorothy Cooper, who for once is a real person, not one made up by the show to make a point.

—   Will is basically saying exactly what that thinkprogress post said, how voter fraud is a miniscule speck of a problem and that forcing people to have photo IDs to vote will disenfranchise millions of people like Dorothy Cooper. (It still bugs me when the show acts like it’s doing something no one else is doing when plenty of news outlets at the time clearly covered the story just like this. YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL, NEWS NIGHT. GET OVER YOURSELF.)

—   Republican-bashing! Because that’s also something we’ve never seen on this show before!

—   Flashback to 7 days ago! Jim interrupts an important news meeting to ask about Sex and the City in order to know enough to impress Lisa. Jim, you’re being unprofessional and you’re not charming enough to get away with it.

—   And I find myself much more riveted by the croissants on the table than the conversation about Sex and the City tour buses. Again, the show CLEARLY doesn’t care about the news it purports to care so much about, because as soon as the conversation turns news-y again, the scene is cut.

—   Cut to Will in the hospital with Mac. Either they’ll get together by the end of this episode because it’s the season finale, or they don’t  because . . . I don’t even care.

—   Mac — sooooo surprisingly — has another hysterical fit. I think they must be contractually obligated, one per episode. Golly gee, I would never want to be her boyfriend.

—   HAHAHAHA Reporter-ex-Brian basically wrote what I’ve been writing on my blogs about the show’s sheer pretentiousness and delusions of significance. High five on the astral plane, Reporter-ex-Brian. But having one villainized character point this out does not count as self-awareness, Sorkin. Because I’m sure you’re not going to stop preaching, even if Will’s character has this momentary self doubt.

—   Although it is finally satisfying to hear someone say it and have Will admit, “He’s right!” Because he is.

—   Will says he’s not coming back. But this is not in the least suspenseful because we already saw the future where he does.

—   Hope Davis the gossip columnist is back. I thought we paid you to go away.

—   She has a tip that Will was high on the air back in episode 7, which of course he was. She says if she finds a second source, she has to go to press right away. Why? Because of journalistic ethics? Did she forget she doesn’t have any?

—   (I bet Will was her first source. Self-sabotage.)

—   And now the show is making a play for our sympathy, trying to get us to care about the plight of a gossip columnist. Nope, sorry, don’t care enough to feel bad for you.

—   Charlie is meeting with Secret Contact man to tell him he’s a sucky witness with a sucky reputation. Secret Contact does not take it well. Starts giving a Sorkin ramble that he can’t pull off because he’s not Martin Sheen.

—   Secret Contact promised incriminating info about the magazine where Hope Davis works, but doesn’t want to give it since they’re not letting him be a witness.

—   Flashback to 5 days ago! Sloan and Don, talking about the news in the most uninformative way, because they’re much more invested in the Will drama of the moment.

—   And evidently Maggie/Don drama too? I thought they broke up, but apparently he wants to ask her to move in with him. And now Sloan is giving a weird speech about how Don thinks he’s a bad guy so he tries to do good guy things. This would be a million times more interesting if we’d seen any meaningful storylines for his character that didn’t have to do with breaking up with Maggie. SHOW, DON’T TELL.

—   Oh, god, now we find out that Sloan’s had a crush on Don forever. Can we please have anyone on this show have really good solid interesting friendship that isn’t immediately all about romance? No? Never mind, then.

—   Most Insincere Enthusiasm About Don Moving In With Maggie Award goes to Jim.

—   Mac is being incredibly fake chipper and annoying at Will’s bedside.

—   And now Jim is spilling his relationship woes to Mac, which no one should ever do, because Mac is an irrational hysteric about relationships.

—   Jim has been going out with Lisa again for TWO MONTHS? Gah! Dude, grow a pair. I mean, she’s obviously the better girl, but you’re an idiot and you belong with Maggie because she’s also an idiot. Leave Lisa out of it.

—   Another Mac freakout! Never saw that coming!

—   Mac is trying to talk Will back to work, and breaks the news to him that word could get out that he was high and that could be the end of his career. He doesn’t seem fazed; I’m still betting he was the source.

—   Secret Contact man killed himself. I wish I cared, but I don’t. He just felt like a cheap, misplaced plot device, not a character.

—   Back to Will on the air. Uber-liberal Sorkin is once again using Will to tell Republicans what their party should be and why they suck at it. I just cannot take the show seriously when it’s this sanctimonious.

—   Flashback to 4 days ago! Neal is asking permission to continue “smoking out” the hacker who claimed to have left the death threat. Right, that happened.

—   Charlie got a letter from dead Secret Contact, but we don’t see what’s in it. Oooh, the suspense. Not. I’m sure it’s the incriminating evidence against the network and the magazine.

—   Will is watching the opening of the first Newsroom episode in the hospital — I mean, a viral youtube video that just happens to have been shot from the exact same angle as the show.

—   Charlie brings in the nurse to guilt Will into going back on the air, asking why her aunt, Dorothy Cooper (I see what you did there, show), isn’t being allowed to vote and why this isn’t on the news. So it’s up to Will to get it on the news — except in real life there was no Will or News Night and it made the news just fine without them. But hush, let’s not burst the show’s self-important bubble.

—   Ah, Will didn’t tell Hope Davis on purpose that he was high, but he accidentally left her a voicemail that was meant for Mac. Or Mac’s phone was hacked. Whatever. That’s even more uninteresting than my self-sabotage theory.

—   Dramatic Baba O’Reilly music as Will miraculously finds the motivation to go back on the air, naysayers be damned even though they’re right.

—   Montage of the whole newsroom gathering republican-bashing materials. You know, Sorkin, I want to see some democrat-bashing materials, because I’m sure they pull shenanigans too. But no, that’s not what this show’s for.

—   Lisa/Maggie confronting each other about Jim and Don. Oh dear god these storylines are tired. They were tired after one episode. And this is the tenth.

—   Of course the Sex and the City bus is there. And of course Jim is on it so that he can see her have a meltdown and confess to being in love with him to a whole bus full of strangers. That was THE most predictable thing I’ve ever seen.

—   And Jim’s chasing her and she’s hiding like a baby because all the people on this show are babies.

—   And she comes out and they kiss. Aww.

—   Argh, Jim says they can’t be together because of Lisa and Don. Let’s drag this out even more for no reason.

—   Will on the air to bring us more Tea Party bashing. Sigh.

—   Maggie’s preparing a breakup speech for Don and he’s asking her to move in with him. And just like that Maggie picks Don over Jim even though she CLEARLY WANTS JIM MORE.

—   Network people are confronting Will about him being high, Charlie pulls out the magic envelope from Secret Contact that shows that they hacked Mac’s phone and please can this storyline be over.

—   Oh, haha. Once they’ve got the network guy to admit to hacking and recorded it, it turns out the envelope had no evidence in it. Like I’ve never seen that trick before.

—   Sloan gives a defense of blind obnoxious idealism by saying that the country was made by “greater fools.” I see what you did there, Sorkin. It’s not convincing. Nobody who doesn’t already agree with this show’s politics is going to be swayed by it.

—   Mac is pestering Will to tell her what was in the message, even though it was obviously a love confession.

—   Yowch. Will just called the Tea Party the American Taliban. Because conflating things with terrorism and brutal oppression is always a sound argument.

—   Awkward Maggie/Jim talk where she tells him he’s a good guy and he says Don is too. Show, being “a good guy” is not enough for a relationship. Demonstrate to me WHY characters are compatible, aside from the fact that they like each other, because “a good guy who likes you” is NOT ENOUGH. It’s a start but nothing more.

—   Mac is harassing Will about the message, and he confesses that he thought he saw her that first day in the audience and she confesses it was her but she didn’t tell him because she’s a frigging moron. (No, actually she doesn’t say that. But it’s true.) And in this relationship, the characters have a clearly demonstrated compatibility but it’s because they’re both obnoxious idealists, which doesn’t make them likable and so doesn’t make the relationship compelling.

—   Neal’s plan to smoke out the death threatener led to 100 new death threats. Whatever.

—   Sorority girl is interviewing to intern on the show. I guessed that.

—   And they bring the show full circle by having Will say that wide-eyed, easily influenced idealists like sorority girl make America the greatest country in the world.

—   Hope Davis deletes the voicemail message and the show is over!!!!

 

Final Thoughts:

As you can see, I like this episode about as much as I’ve liked the rest of the show, which is to say, not a whole lot. Same issues as always — too much relationship drama involving weak/underdeveloped characters, not enough interesting angles on stories that haven’t already been done, the show beating the same dead horse over and over and over again, Mac being Mac, Will being Will . . . I will go into all of these things in more detail when I review the season as a whole.

As for the particulars of this episode, the death threat failing to pay off in any way was a disappointment. The network trying to fire Will was a retread of what had already been covered in several episodes and the villains didn’t take on any more depth over the course of it, so that was boring and seeing the good guys win wasn’t particularly satisfying because it was so obvious. Mac and Will and Maggie/Jim/Don/Lisa were the same mess of miscommunication and bad decisions as ever, so that was boring. The show being all meta and critiquing itself for its failings through Brian’s article was mildly interesting but not really because there were no lasting consequences and I knew from the start that there wouldn’t be any.

 

Rating: 2.5/5

REVIEW: The Newsroom — Season 1 Episode 9 — “The Blackout, Part 2: Mock Debate”

At last, the eagerly anticipated conclusion to last week’s episode! (And by “eagerly anticipated,” I mean not. At all.) Let’s see if our intrepid crew will continue to be forced to report the news in ways they don’t like, and if I will magically start to care…

 

—   Quick recap: A) Will’s hired Mac’s ex to write a story about the show. B) the network is pressuring the show to report more tragedy porn, and they’re going along with it because they want to be able to do a mock debate later and they need to be in good standing with the network or they might not get the chance. C) Charlie has a Secret Contact at the NSA who says the world is ending because the government has too much power. D) Anthony Wiener scandal is in full swing (no pun intended). E) Before they had a chance to tape a tragedy porn show, the power went out, hence “blackout.”

—   Power is still out.

—   Mac is being sappy and speechy about how this was GOD’S PLAN because he doesn’t want them to report on Casey Anthony and Anthony Wiener, and getting all crazed and excited about making the show with a desk and a couple of microphones and BEING A TEAM AGAIN, and then the power goes back on. Boo hoo.

—   Jim says to the crew during taping, “hey, you don’t have to watch this,” but obviously everybody WANTS to watch it. It’s like what they say about gossip: it’s something nobody claims to like, but everybody enjoys.

—   Sloan is still upset about the tabloid stories taking time away from her reporting on the biggest economic crisis of her lifetime, even though I still don’t have a handle on what that is, and since it already happened and the world seems to still be functioning, I don’t really care.

—   Neal still wants to do that story on internet trolls, because that’s somehow more newsworthy than tragedy porn, and asks Sloan’s permission to slander her online in order to build his troll credibility. She says yes, because she thinks it’s a good story too, wonder of wonders.

—    Convo between Mac and Brian-the-reporter-ex about Will being lonely. Don’t care. If he is, he deserves it because he did it to himself.

—   Will has flowers in his office, Mac pays them entirely too much attention. Yawn.

—   Mock debate practice. I’m failing to see why anyone other than SNL would think this is a good idea.

—   Jim’s ex-girlfriend and Maggie’s roommate Lisa, a fictional character, was magically Casey Anthony’s classmate in high school. I’m sure her insights would be super informative, seeing as she’s FICTIONAL. This is totes realistic. Ugh, I wish the show would just make up everything instead of shoe-horning fictional people into real world situations. That’s why The West Wing worked better.

—   Maggie and Jim are harassing Lisa at her workplace. Classy. Jim pulls the “we have no choice this is super important” card and Lisa finally gives in.

—   Jim awkwardly tries to ask Lisa out again. Stop it, Jim. She’s way too good for you.

—   Don dates around when he and Maggie break up, but doesn’t tell any of the women about the existence of the other. Don, I hate guys like you. Go away.

—   Cut to Will in his therapist’s office. Yay David Krumholtz! I don’t care about Will or his issues with betrayal but YAY DAVID KRUMHOLTZ.

—   Yes, Will, you are right, blaming the cheat-ee instead of the cheater is not the right way to go. But the show is making it sound like it is. Stupid show.

—   Will can’t understand why he can’t seem to forgive Mac for cheating on him. Therapist Krumholtz says it was because it was betrayal, and Will is super sensitive to betrayal.

—   Neal tells Sloan all the various ways he slandered her while trolling economics threads, and she’s glad someone is working on new stories. THIS IS NOT NEWS, SLOAN. Maybe it is to Sorkin because he’s kind of new at the internet thing, but this is tiny and unimportant and silly.

—   Jim’s research on Secret Contact Dude turns up sordid stuff about the guy, hurting his credibility.

—   Maggie and Mac agree that it doesn’t matter what Lisa says on the air as long as she actually shows up, so they’re gonna ask really lame questions.

—   SO PROUD of Lisa for continuing to reject Jim. Guy did not want you, he doesn’t deserve you, keep him in his place. You rock, girl.

—   Uh oh, Lisa’s on the air speaking out for the reasonableness of abortion in cases when the mother doesn’t want the child and can’t raise it. Apparently people are super sensitive about this and everyone is covering their faces in horror.

—   Someone threw a brick through her shop window. Would that really happen in New York? Down south, sure. But we’re pretty liberal here, right? I’m not gonna question it. Could totally happen in some neighborhoods, I suppose.

—   Showcase of the Mock Debate format. Seems all right, although I’d think a real debate with the actual candidates would be more accurate.

—   The boss guy doesn’t seem happy with it, though…

—   He thinks the format is just embarrassing to the candidates and refuses to allow it. All that tragedy porn coverage for nothing.

—   Oooh, now he says he wants the old Will MacAvoy, not the guy Mac turned him into. That’s gonna push some buttons.

—   Will apologizes to everyone for losing the debate.

—   Mac defends Will to Brian-the-reporter-ex by saying he’s better than Brian because he’s never sure about anything, he STRUGGLES with things, and then slapstick humor Will-can’t-put-on-pants joke comes to back her up. But no, Mac, Will is just as obnoxiously self-assured and self-righteous as Brian is. Maybe he has a few things he doubts, but I would never say he’s not sure about ANYTHING.

—   Mac is turning into a hysteric. Again. Ugh.

—   They’re finally doing the show how they want — ignoring the big attention-grabbing stories and leading with Sloan and the Debt Ceiling. Wonder if we’ll actually get to see her explain it.

—   Neal hasn’t gotten troll credibility. Sloan jokingly says, “too bad you’re not the guy who left the death threat for Will,” and now we know what Neal’s next move is gonna be.

—   Mac looks out at everyone and sees they’re all happy and getting along. This is making her sad for some reason?

—   And now she’s giving Jim horrible advice about refusing to move on and instead going after people who’ve rejected him.

—   Jim shows up at Lisa and Maggie’s apartment. I think we’re supposed to think he’s going to ask Lisa again, but I bet he asks Maggie, right there in front of Don.

—   And Lisa answers the door and Jim clearly wants to talk to Maggie, but Lisa — NO NO STOP IT LISA YOU WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG DON’T GIVE IN NOW — thinks he’s there for her and has decided to say yes, and kisses him and leads him out even though GAH he obviously doesn’t want that anymore.

—   Don is the only one with half a brain in this scene who realizes Jim wanted Maggie. And now he’s going to come clean about the other women and hopefully they’ll break up for good.

—   Neal is pretending to be the hacker who posted Will’s death threat, and one of the other trolls says it wasn’t Neal because it was HIM. Saw that coming a mile away.

—   And Will is on relationship advice websites reading about trust while melancholy music plays.

 

 

Final Thoughts:

 

I have very little to say about this episode that isn’t in the above live-blog. The episode just doesn’t come together as a unit. Sure, there’s a linear storyline involving the compromising of values in order to get the debate, and ultimately not getting the debate, and going back to reporting the news the way they want to. And there are little B plots and C plots about trolls and the Secret Contact.

But then there’s all the non-plot stuff, the relationship drama, which could really be happening in any episode, regardless of the plot, because there is nothing particularly plot-related about the development of these love triangles. And there is no unifying theme between any of the disparate events of the story. It just feels like a bunch of random stuff that happens to be happening to these same people. Say what you may about cheesy Grey’s Anatomy voiceovers — at least they manage to pull everything together and make you feel like you watched a well-constructed whole instead of just a mess.

And of course, having another Mackenzie freakout does nothing to help the cause. And nope, we didn’t get to see Sloan explain about the debt ceiling. Why am I not surprised.

 

Rating: 2.5/5

REVIEW: House of Cards — Episodes 1 and 2

I’ve just been assigned to binge-watch and blog about House of Cards for my media class. I know a few things about the context of this series, but nothing at all about the show itself. What do I mean?

What I know is . . .

1)   It’s a Netflix original series. Developed and made by Netflix, released on the site all at once, not as a week-by-week thing. Presumably if it’s successful enough, it may start a new trend. Only time will tell.

2)   It has Kevin Spacey, who I like very much, despite not having seen most of his movies. The ones I have seen, I’ve liked him in a lot, so his name is pretty big draw for me.

. . . and that’s it. I don’t know the plot or the premise or any of the character names or professions or ANYTHING. I have not looked at the posters (note from the future: I only googled that picture above when I’d finished writing up this post), and deliberately not read any descriptions, even the little summaries on Netflix. From the title, I presume there will be lies and deceit, but I don’t know what they’ll be lying about or who “they” are. A grand mystery, y’all.

I’ve got permission to blog these in 2-episode chunks, so I sat down with Netflix, my older brother, plus some sushi, and we let it roll.

OVERALL IMPRESSION:

Newsroom and Aaron Sorkin, pay attention. This is how you make a show with unlikable characters. You have them be completely, unapologetically evil with no illusions about who they are or what they want. It stops them from being preachy and insufferable, and causes viewers to see brief moments of compassion as cracks in the armor, leaving them to wonder if the characters’ consciences will ever catch up to them, or if they will get away with all their nefarious shenanigans without having to face any consequences or remorse. THAT is so much more compelling than watching people who claim moral superiority and then week after week fail to achieve it.

SPECIFICS:

—   It’s a political show, set in Congress in Washington DC.

—   It’s the anti-West Wing. Instead of a bunch of brilliant, charismatic idealists struggling against the machine to make things better, it’s about a brilliant, charismatic megalomaniac who embraces the machine and uses it to satisfy his own thirst for power.

—   Kevin Spacey plays said megalomaniac, Frank Underwood, a bigwig senator with a lot of political clout, who craves more power and disdains all the little people (aka other congresspeople) around him, seeing them only as pawns he must manipulate to serve his purposes. When the newly-elected president goes back on his word and does not appoint Frank to be Secretary of State, Frank throws all allegiances to the dogs and decides to achieve power however he can, backstabbing and manipulating whoever is in his way.

—   His wife is played by Robin Wright, and she is a regular stone-cold Lady Macbeth. They deserve each other and get along quite well. She runs a charity called Clean Water Initiative and has no qualms about firing half the staff and her partner when she decides to take the organization in “a different direction.” Not sure what that direction is or why she’s doing it, but it can’t be good.

—   Kate Mara, who I’ve liked from 24 and Jack and Bobby (hmm, I guess she likes those politically-fraught shows about fictional presidencies), is a blogger/reporter struggling to be taken seriously, and she finagles her way into getting Frank to be her top secret inside source. This is a mutually beneficial relationship, as he gets to leak information to the press in order to sabotage the presidency and other congresspeople, including the president’s new choice for Secretary of State (who is dismissed and Frank’s handpicked choice gets the job instead), and the reporter gets credibility and publicity.

—   There’s Pete, the congressman who exemplifies all the worst sordid stereotypes about corrupt politicians: he drinks, smokes pot, snorts cocaine, hires hookers, sleeps with his secretaries, cheats on his girlfriend — you name it, he does it. But all this blackmail material puts him entirely at Frank’s mercy, and he becomes essentially Frank’s lackey, called in to do his dirty work.

I can’t say I like any of these characters as people. But they are a fascinating portrait of evil and vice and weakness, and they make you wonder how empty they can truly be, how far their deceptions and machinations can go, or if they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and it’s only a matter of time before their schemes really will collapse like the titular house of cards.

Rating: 4/5

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