“House of Cards” is Terrible and You’re All Bad People

On the way out of the Senate yesterday, I heard tourists talking about House of Cards, the popular Netflix show that has supplanted The West Wing as the preferred pop culture window into Washington. My chief problem with the show is that it is terrible — clunkily written, drunk on cliches (name a female journalist on the show who doesn’t end up schtupping a powerful man), hammily acted.

Two examples of why I loathe it so.

1) Season two and the first half of season three spend some solid time building up Senator Hector Mendoza, a Latino Republican who is elevated to majority leader over the course of the series. He’s powerful enough to be invited to a quasi-State Dinner where foreign dignitaries recognize that he probably will be elected president soon.

Yet in episode eight, he is written off — literally. President Underwood greets the House and Senate leaders. Mendoza is not there.

“What happened to Hector Mendoza?” Underwood asks viewers, through the fourth wall. “Well, you don’t declare a couple of speeches as income, and — boom! You’re no longer in Congress, and certainly not running for president.”

And that’s it. A scandal never previously mentioned, hinted at, or foreshadowed took out a key antagonist. There’s not even a wink at Underwood or his operatives pulling the strings. It just happened.

2) In that same episode, a novelist named Mickey Doyle, hired to write a campaign memoir of President Underwood is finishing an opening chapter about how, as a young man, he tried to swim from the shore of Charleston to Fort Sumter. The story is fake, but in the House of Cards universe, no journalist ever uncovers a story, so this can slide. No: The problem is that Doyle, a troubled but talented rake, is pounding out some of the shittiest prose this side of a Cliff Bar nutritional panel.

“He’d reached the point of no return,” writes Doyle, narrating as he punches keys. “Turning back was no longer an option.” Later: “One thing can’t be denied, however: What others saw as impossible, he refused to believe as such.”

Several scenes later, Doyle meets with Underwood to deliver some pages. The president reacts as if he was just handed a first draft of The Corrections. Doyle confidently pronounces it “the best thing I’ve written in years.”

Bobbing along in our barrels

While muddling through the last week of deadlines, deadlines and more deadlines, I watched through the 2004 FOX series “Wonderfalls.” Here was a show slated to debut in 2003, delayed until early 2004, and then only aired three times even though 13 episodes had been filmed. It was produced by Bryan Fuller of the worthless “Dead Like Me” and Tim Minear of the quite worthwhile “Firefly.” I didn’t know what to expect – was it going to be unbearably “different” like Fuller’s work? Was it going to make the most of its fantasy hook like Minear’s? Was the apparent overacting of its stars, as seen from the promos, going to drive me insane?

Roll call: Yes, yes, and yes.

“Wonderfalls,” as you’ve forgotten by now, was the story of 24-year old slacker Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas), a clerk in a Niagra Falls gift shop, who suddenly starts communing with the hideous chatchki she sells. Wax lions, teddy bears, and snake decals on T-shirts start giving her cryptic messages like “Save him from her!” and “Give him heart!” She (overactingly) talks back to them (out loud, for some reason), and after finding that nothing good comes of disobeying them, does whatever they say.

This is all written and filmed with a Costo-sized supply of cheekiness. The writers make every character sarcastic and witty (even the rubes are witty in a deadpan way). Oddly, they make all the female characters irksome and all the male characters flawless. This becomes a problem when Jaye meets Eric (Tyron Leitso), a newlywed whose wife was giving head to a bellhop in their honeymoon suite when he walked in the door. Eric went AWOL from his marriage and his life in New Jersey and settled in Niagra to bartend, and he’s absolutely saintly and perfect and characterless. He is immediately interested in Jaye; there is no downside to dating him; even though he’s funny and you enjoy watching him flirt with Jaye, one of the three stools of the show’s plot becomes completely predictable.

After a few episodes, after I watched Jaye extend fairly mundane problems into 43-minute sagas, I watched one of the features on this DVD set and learned that the show’s producers and writers provide the voices of the chatchkis. So I figured out the mystery of the talking animals – they are the disembodied spirits of lazy writers. When Jaye’s family’s French-Canadian maid is deported, the chatchkis don’t warn her about that. They tell her to ask the maid to make breakfast, which delays her so the INS has time to arrive and arrest her. Then they tell her to “bring her home,” and direct her to the house of her actual parents, who loathe her. So they tell her again to “bring her home,” and she arrives back to the Tyler household after some bureaucratic wrangling… which could have been dealt with originally if the chatchkis had, you know, told Jaye to file her maid’s citizenship papers.

The gimmick fades after a few episodes… it’s a little like “Scrubs,” which cut down on its fantasy sequences just when they were getting tiresome. And when we’re left with Jaye and her not-boyfriend and her family, this is a kitschy (was there a special on fishbowl lenses?) but cute series. It probably didn’t deserve its fate; it’s at least worth renting.

LAblogging

One of the first sites in California that I had to see was Sunnydale High School – aka the real world’s Torrance High. I didn’t just see it. I conquered it.

Like the caption says, CJ photographed me with the stair rail in the foreground. Yep – the rail that Xander skateboarded into in Season One, Episode One “Welcome to the Hellmouth.”

Tonight’s “The OC” finale

Wow – it’s rare you get to see a show jump the shark so definitively, isn’t it? (Assuming you don’t think it jumped with the crazy depressive guy in season one. Which is a valid theory.)

UPDATE: Upon reflection, I just noticed that Seth got a late acceptance to the Rhode Island School of Design. He’ll start in January, not August or September. I think the producers are aware “Gray’s Anatomy” is going to eat their lunch and they’ll get pulled midseason for Untitled Norm MacDonald Project. A sad end.

More Degrassi

I’m 2/3 of the way through season three of “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” and I can safely say this is the point when the series surpassed the original Degrassi shows. The abortion episode “Accidents Will Happen” – still unaired in the US – is many degrees sadder and more powerful than the Spike arc on DJH or the Heather (was it Heather or Erica?) arc on DH. And the foreshadowing you can see on these DVDs, with knowledge of what the characters will do over the next few years (Craig’s bipolar disorder, JT knocking up Liberty), really speaks to the talent of this writing staff.