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.”