You may have noticed that there was no Throw It Out Thursday post last week. This is because, well, I threw it out. I had a few sketches, but nothing resembling a decent blog post, and rather than publish something I felt was substandard, I took the week off.
In this week’s Good Reads post, I shared a review of the new season (the first four episodes, at least) of Netflix’s House of Cards. If you didn’t happen to read it, the writer makes the rather salient point that the show is akin to Doritos – addictive and easy to consume en masse, but totally insubstantial. It’s junk food, basically. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I may not have watched the new episodes if Dana hadn’t been so excited to see them – we’ve long since established that she’s much less critical of media than I am, though she usually doesn’t disagree with my assessments – but I binged on them all the same. Not only was it me having to twist her arm a little to knock out a couple of episodes the other night, I ended up watching the last episode without her. So clearly I derive some pleasure from the experience, despite the numerous faults I find with it.
Still, I can’t help but roll my eyes when people gush about how “amazing” the show is when it’s anything but. A show with this many issues in terms of pacing, plot, and writing that by turns is trite, lazy, or overwrought doesn’t really seem worthy of that kind of superlative. I enjoy hearing other peoples’ thoughts on film, TV, and music, so I gravitate toward reading reviews of shows that I watch regularly. It exposes me to other interpretations; even if those reactions don’t change my opinion or jibe with how I viewed the episode, they tend to make me think a little more about why I had the reactions I did.
Specifically, I read a few recaps of the opening episode, which featured a scene that the people writing those recaps considered “shocking” and an “incredible twist”. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that the scene is question was so predictable and obviously telegraphed that I A) called out what was going to happen before it happened and B) laughed when it finally did. Now, I can’t predict the future – I think my track record in decision making of the course of my life has made that abundantly clear – but this “twist” should have been obvious to anyone who’s ever seen a movie or TV show from the musical and visual cues. Not to mention it followed logically from the narrative and stylistic choices that the show made in its first season – namely, going for big, loud moments of showmanship at the expense of a cogent plot. It’s not usually a good sign if, when I’m guessing what will come next, my default assumption is “Whatever would be the most ridiculous,” and then you do that exact thing.
I’ve heard some suggest that the breathless reactions many have had to House of Cards are due to the fact that it so clearly wants to be a so-called “prestige drama” and is exceedingly well-marketed. But if you treat it as such, though, you’re either willfully ignoring its numerous shortcomings or setting yourself up for disappointment.
I liked the new season more than the first, and I think that’s partly due to tempered expectations. I was hoping for a great show at the outset, so it was tough to overlook the areas in which I found it to be lacking. Once I accepted that House of Cards was content to be eminently watchable, melodramatic fluff, it was a lot easier to appreciate.
And make no mistake, for all its flaws, House of Cards is quite entertaining. The performances are mostly strong, the cinematography is often impressive, and every once in a while, when the writers swing for the fences, they actually do connect.
The reviewer who made the Doritos analogy didn’t mean it as an insult, and neither do I. While I rarely eat them these days, I can remember more than a few times when I sat down and ate an entire fucking bag. And you know what? I enjoyed every second, as unsatisfying as the result invariably was.
You don’t need to use hyperbole to justify liking something, especially if it’s not art with a capital A. Not everything can be, or even should be, some sort of grand artistic achievement. Sometimes you just want to go the movies to sit in air conditioning, eat overpriced popcorn, and watch a 90-minute shootout/car chase with an occasional scene of exposition on a 3,500 square-foot screen. But that’s not the greatest thing you’ve ever seen. Let’s not pretend otherwise.