Feb. 1 marked the premier of the new television series House of Cards, and there are a number of reasons to be excited about it; it’s starring Kevin Spacey (whose southern drawl is simply wonderful), it’s Netflix’s first original series, and House of Cards might be one of the best examples of how a fictional television series can be a mirror reflecting the culture that created it. Obviously, this is not a new idea or practice, but how well House of Cards does this is staggering.
A recent Salon article claimed that more and more people are engaging in watching television and movies online legally from places like Netflix, and subsequently, this makes studying the habits, tendencies, and interests of its viewers far easier given that Netflix can track things like when you start watching a show, pause a show, what kind of show you’re watching a particular time, etc.
What’s interesting is this information can be used to construct shows that will taper to the audience’s interests; the downside being the utter destruction of creativity in television, but I mean really, you can’t call Mike and Molly creative without redefining the word completely. User data gathered by Netflix can be used to construct shows with surgical precision.
And holy shit does it work.
The name may insinuate otherwise, but House of Cards is an incredibly elaborate piece of television architecture, from combining the style and class of Mad Men with the schemes of Breaking Bad right down to the way shots tend to be framed with hyper-symmetry.
While a series may hold up a mirror to reflect one or two issues culturally and temporally relevant, House of Cards is not just a mirror held up in front of its audience, but rather stretching around it 360° to encompass it in its entirety and reflect not one or two relevant ideas, but all of it from various angles.
Even more interesting is the show’s ability to be the mirror that reflects culture, but also the hand holding the mirror, shaping the audience’s views about itself. For example, the show’s content often deals with the various challenges of adapting to a rapidly changing and increasingly digital world when the show itself is actively changing it; House of Cards is Netflix’s first original series and judging by the show’s reception thus far, I would venture to say it won’t be the last. This marks a shift in the way television shows will be provided in the future. It would be foolish to think that production companies would ignore the successes of a distribution model such as this.
In terms of the show itself, House of Cards is fantastic. The first few episodes are enthralling, with more than enough to keep viewers interested when the excitement briefly tapers off mid-season before picking up again at the end.
It’s filled with asides from protagonist Frank Underwood that break the fourth wall and address the audience directly, which is something a bit unusual for television, but it allows for the audience to better grasp Underwood’s psychology and see both his façade and the conniving side that lies beneath.
As well, the show seems to take up every hot topic that Western society encountered recently, including – but not limited to – digitilization, ageism, Israeli/Palestinian relations, contempt for unions, demonization of teachers, media privileging tragedy based on race, buzzwords as cannon fodder for rhetorical barrages, politicization of tragedy, increasing work hours, blurring of public and private life, and public healthcare. It reinforces that we live in an age where we’re to “assume that there’s no such thing as a secret” and that “when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand.”
Netflix may have me tied around its finger given that it knows all of my viewing choices (likely better than I do), and shows will be structured around these, but this was always the case with television. Netflix has just become better at doing it. It’s difficult to say at this point whether user data will be used to feed us the same repetitive garbage (as if that weren’t the case already), or if it will be used to create new and innovative shows, or how cable and satellite providers will fare from this, but I can say there are plenty of reasons to be interested in House of Cards.
All right, if Netflix is using our data to create television programming, logically speaking, we can predict what’ll be coming our way come time for the new premiers in the fall based off of what Netflix already recommends for you. So, below are possibilities of what you could be seeing on TV in the coming years. Aspiring screenwriters take note.
Keeping up with the Kardashians + Breaking Bad + Arrested Development = Kardashiac Arrest
Attempting to save the family housing company from bankruptcy, the Kardashian sisters start selling methamphetamine and use the model homes for meth labs–until they realize George Bluth Sr. has been hiding in the attic, learning their recipe, and selling it to the Mexican cartels.
Rugrats + Top Gear (UK) + The Vampire Diaries = The Vampire Diapers
Tommy Pickles and gang get caught up in the supernatural world of vampires who are just too cute to stay away from. Luckily though, they’ve got the latest Mercedes AMGs and Ferraris to help them get away. Unluckily, they’re children and don’t know how to fucking drive.
The Hills + How I Met Your Mother + The Walking Dead = How I Met Your Dead Hills
LC must kill zombie Heidi Montag who is in a necrophiliac marriage with Spencer Pratt told in reverse.
Wilfred + Glee + National Geographic: Aryan Brotherhood = Let Me Play You the Song of My Nazis
(Documentary mini series)
Neo-nazi vocal jazz group has schizophrenic hallucinations of pets and must fight gangs of them on the prison yard by singing them to death.
Photo illustration by Tenielle Bogdan