Maureen O’Connor confesses:
Three weeks ago I cheated on my boyfriend. He was perhaps twenty feet away from me, sleeping in my bed with the door open while I betrayed his trust on the living room sofa. At one point, he woke up and walked right by. “You’re not watching House of Cards without me, are you?” he asked. “No,” I lied without hitting pause. With my ear buds in, you could say Netflix was actually inside of me as my boyfriend returned to bed. I stayed in the living room and kept watching.
A few days later I confessed my crime. “But when?” he asked, at first in disbelief. “Wait, that night you stayed up late? And I asked what you were doing, and you said ‘working’? Mauree-ee-een!” Feebly, I offered to re-watch the episodes. “It won’t be the same,” he said. Overwhelmed with guilt, I lied again: “I only watched two episodes! You can catch up!” I had watched five episodes in one night and finished the season.
Yes, my husband committed adultery while I was traveling recently in exactly the same way. But he made up for it by watching it with me again. Speaking of House of Cards, readers offer feedback on my recent review of the series. One quotes me:
“It has some clumsy compressions, some melodrama, and a main character so close to Shakespeare’s Richard III I wonder whether Kevin Spacey’s breaking the fourth wall isn’t some sly reference to Richard’s chillingly fun soliloquies to the audience.” Have you not seen the BBC original? There, the Shakespearean models are patent.
“MacBeth” is evoked in the Scottishness of Ian Richardson’s Francis Urqhardt and the chilling complicity of his wife. The direct address to the audience is even more pronounced, and it excites the same conspiratorial engagement that the device does in “Richard III.” What’s more, Richardson’s performance is more comical/cynical and seductive/sexy than Spacey manages (or dares).
I can only imagine the American producers played down these aspects for an audience they thought would be less familiar with the Elizabethan precursors and less likely to appreciate a theatrical device on television. It is the loss of the Netflix version. It strikes me as perverse to jettison an aspect that made the original series so novel. We’ve seen any number of Shakespeare plays cast in modern dress, but far fewer modern political drama presented in Shakespearean drag.
For the life of me, I can’t recall if you had mentioned seeing Kevin Spacey as Richard III when he played the role in a traveling production of the Shakespeare play, or if you were aware that he had. Spacey and/or the writers are no doubt drawing on the experience. I had the good fortune to see the play in San Francisco. He was fantastic in the role.
Not subscribing to Netflix, I haven’t seen the new House of Cards. But your comments on this series reminded me of the greatness of the British original. I own a DVD set of the original series and watch it every few years. In the British version, the anti-hero, Francis Urquhart (“FU” – subtle, huh?) seems to me to clearly be a Tory. The genius of the show is the breaking of fourth wall, as you mentioned. But this occurs most effectively early in the series, when FU is taking us into his confidence. He’s truly delighted to be so clever, and his delight sweeps the viewer along, in effect making the viewer a co-conspirator. Of course, by the end he’s not the one who’s quite so clever or ruthless.