Friday, March 4, 2016

You might very well think that....

After a long wait, D-Day has arrived. HoC Season 4 is on!! (Unfortunately, this isn't a review. A related topic, rather.... )

You see, I am not much of a TV watcher. I can watch mindless comedies while doing chores, but I am sort of a TV commitmentphobe- cannot be loyal to any series, watch it everyday, etc. However, occasionally, circumstances collude and I end up watching one. Two years ago, I started watching House of Cards.

At first, I was thoroughly impressed by Spacey and his lines. Spacey is, no doubt, brilliant. Robin is great too. She is sexy and power-hungry and magnetic all at once. I was not a big fan of Kate Mara or Russo or the Dunbar lady, but then Jackie and the Russian President guy were spot-on. I liked the Season 2 Mrs.President too, too lazy to look up her name now.
Of course, the focus is not the characters. It is the lines. When Spacey delivers his words, even in an act of unpardonable evil, you agree with him "Yes, yes, a matador. Never a doormat!". 

Yes, yes, the Netflix House of Cards is awesome. But..

I hope you saw the "but" coming. I wouldn't start a post to rave about something, would I? 

You see, just after I finished the Netflix version last year, I started on the UK version of HoC from the 90's. And being the Anglophile that I am, I couldn't stop appreciating it. The more I watched, the more the American version appeared crass in comparison.

I think the most obvious difference is the length, and long is not always good (somebody needs to tell Trump that). The Brit version, short and sweet, is in and out in no time, but you enjoy every minute of it and are left craving for more. The Netflix one, on the other hand, is painfully long. Starts great, but there are times when it sags a little and you almost think of leaving before it picks up again. And though it leaves you almost exhausted at the end of Season 3, by then you are wondering if it was really worth it. Yes, yes, I am still talking about the 4-episode-a-season vs a million-episodes-a-season formats...

With 12 one-hour long episodes, Netflix goes into excruciating detail about every scandal, every newspaper headline and Twitter post. In contrast, the Brit version rules the land of the subtle.  After a scandal is mentioned, you are left to imagine the gory details, which is great because it leads you to the amazing climax faster. With the Netflix version, you have almost lost interest before they get to the end of it. The ending is of course Earth-shattering awesome, but I'd rather not be bored midway and wondering what to snack on when I'm done.
That aside, there is the dark comedy angle. Where the Brit version has a satirical tone- laughing at politics and society, but more importantly, at itself- Spacey's version sorely lacks in humor. Besides, it has this insistence on everything having a back story, this obsession with explaining EVERYthing. The bad people must have a heart and must falter some time, the good people must have their foibles which the power-hungry exploit. There are no Roald-Dahlian quirks here. Nobody is in it for the heck of it.

Which brings me to the main difference. 
Spacey's portrayal is amazing, but Spacey takes himself too seriously. Frank Underwood is the embodiment of the quintessential American ambition. He will leave no stone unturned till he gets to his goal. And nobody is fooled about that. Everyone he meets, even those who underestimate him, knows he means business. You root for him, but mostly because he is trying so hard and he has "got to" win.

Ian's portrayal is, on the other hand, casual but genius. Francis Urquhart is just a decent old man-- old-school, sometimes a little insistent, smart of course, but not someone you would be afraid of. Or that's what he has you think. Until you catch him in those moments where he removes his mask and you see what he is capable of - but before you even fully glimpse at it, he is back with a charming "We should maintain our courtesies, shouldn't we?". That irony makes him tantalizingly dangerous, and makes you a little afraid of yourself when you root for him. In fact, you don't even know why you do so, he is sometimes too conservative to be exciting- and yet, you want him to win. He is the man you were warned against.

However, even with a slight preference for the Brit version, I am honestly glad we get to taste two different styles of a very similar plot. Long or short, serious or satirical, vanilla or tempestuous- each is a treat! And that's why I highly recommend watching at least one of them, if not both.. (I'd recommend starting with the Netflix one)

Meanwhile, I will be buried in my couch for a few days.. Watching Season 4 of course.. 

1 comment:

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