I have, like so many people, been watching House of Cards via Netflix DVDs. The first season was hypnotic. The second season not so much. I may not watch the third season. Why? It's real simple: Nobody seems to be having any fun. Not the President, not his wife, not the staff, not the Secret Service guys, and especially not Francis and Clare Underwood. I mean, what's the point of pursuing power by any means, if you're not going to have a good time screwing everyone over? Even the sex romps are grim. More on that later.
Think about prime-time TV these days. Who's enjoying the game on Game of Thrones? Did Walter White ever kick back and watch trash TV on Breaking Bad? I experienced the world of Mad Men, and the people I remember had a lot more fun drinking and screwing than Draper and pals ever did. Do The Americans ever just go fishing? Wayward Pines is so dark you can't see the road, much less the actors. Every plot is convoluted, everybody is up to their necks in conspiracies, everyone is always plotting their next move, and everyone is soooo serious...
But that isn't the way the real world works. People go fishing. They relax. They get hooked on Candy Crush or Triple Town. They binge-watch anything they can. Joseph Stalin liked cowboy movies, Charlie Chaplin, Georgian wine, and billiards. The man knew how to relax. So did others: Mao Zedong was a master calligrapher and a fairly decent poet. He also really enjoyed women. Hitler loved listening to Putzi Hanfstaengl play piano, and apparently had a fondness for dogs. Osama bin Laden wrote love letters in between calls for jihad. Napoleon loved Josephine and cheating at cards. In other words, in the real world, even totalitarian monsters take a break once in a while and have a good time.
Meanwhile, Francis Underwood even gave up ribs. (And considering how solemn everyone was before and after, that three-way didn't do much to loosen anyone up.)
|Nathaniel Parker as Harold Skimpole|
in the 2005 BBC production of
Or, on screen:
- Henry Fonda's Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West,
- Basil Rathbone's Andre Trochard in We're No Angels,
- Lionel Barrymore's Harry F. Potter in It's A Wonderful Life,
- Peter Ustinov's Nero in Quo Vadis, and, of course,
- Charlton Heston's Richelieu in The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers.
- The late, great Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun.
Now granted, there was a lot of over-acting in these - Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston were obviously having the time of their lives as they FINALLY got to play the villain! But I think there's a lot of over-underacting today. It's the latest style: very self-controlled, laser-serious, apparently clinically depressed villains who don't take pleasure in anything, even power once they get it (if they ever do). But if you go back a few decades, and you find villains who smirked, sneered, sauntered, and basically acted like Bette Davis in The Little Foxes.
Or you can always go back to the original: Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart in the original, UK House of Cards, who was ruthless, deadly, witty, with a smile like a silver-haired Puck. "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment." Watching Richardson's Francis, I always felt that, while he'd definitely sold his soul to the devil, he got full price for it. (And it was a hell of a lot more than one shared cigarette a night...) And he enjoyed everything he got.
Still available on Netflix, here's a preview of Francis Urquhart's best monologues to whet your appetite: