Since it revolutionized the concept of movie rentals in the United States (and beyond) Netflix has struggled to continue innovating. After a number of changes – some of which were certified debacles – the company has moved toward the acquisition of proprietary television content for its streaming service. This includes the fourth-season revival of Arrested Development, co-financing of The Killing, and the upcoming political drama/thriller, House of Cards.
Less than a month away from its series premiere, House of Cards has begun ramping up the hype; adding to an already-compelling first trailer, Netflix has released five more clips and previews to whet the potential audience's appetite for ruthless political skullduggery.
The rental/streaming service has posted several new trailers for House of Cards - with a catch: One does not need a Netflix membership to view the trailers, but it's necessary to download the plugin for the site's movie viewer if one has not already done so. The trailers consist of an extended cut of the preview that debuted two months ago, along with four shorter, more focused, teasers ruminating on some brutal political themes.
Written by Beau Willimon (The Ides of March) and produced by David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), House of Cards is a quasi-remake of a British television series that originally aired in 1990. Moving from the halls of Parliament to a fictionalized Washington, D.C., the 13-episode series will follow Senator Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) as he attempts to undermine and usurp power within a fledgling Presidential administration. The series also stars Corey Stoll (The Bourne Legacy), Kate Mara (American Horror Story), and Robin Wright (Moneyball).
These new previews don't actually present much new material, but they do relentlessly hammer home the show's themes. Viewers can get a solid idea of what to expect via the glimpses of backroom deals, blackmail, infidelity, ruthless betrayal, and raw narcissistic ambition disguised as political pragmatism. If anything, these new previews promise a television experience so emotionally vicious that one can already feel exhausted by it.
House of Cards is the second television series to be exclusively available via Netflix's streaming service. Last year, the displaced-gangster dramedy Lilyhammer debuted on the service to somewhat tepid reviews. With the amount of talent and hype behind House of Cards, the show will no doubt make a larger splash than its Nordic predecessor - no matter the quality of the end result.
Thus comes to question whether or not House of Cards can help Netflix stand up as a provider of top-rate television. The previews for the series are impressive - slickly produced, forceful, and uncompromisingly dark. Also impressive is the show's cast and creative talent; not only is David Fincher producing the series, he apparently also directed two episodes. Two more were directed by Joel Schumacher, who – regardless of his much-reviled Batman films – absolutely knows his way around a camera.
House of Cards may end up being so punishing in its uncompromising view of Washington, D.C. politics that it will end up appealing to a niche audience. But plenty of emotionally battering television shows have found successful followings (see The Wire) - though there's a fine line between bleak realism and what amounts to masochism.
The previews provided by Netflix may only highlight the nastier side of House of Cards, but for all we know, Kevin Spacey could be heading up one of the first truly great television dramas to not actually appear on a television network.
House of Cards will premiere its first episode on Netflix on February 1, 2013.