I feel sorry for you Americans. Choosing a candidate for the Presidential Primaries must be like deciding which STD you’d rather have flaring up your urethra. They’re all such caricatures even Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood from House of Cards is starting to look tame. He’s only killed a couple of people and manipulated the entire system to get into the Oval Office. In real life we have a sentient toupee hell-bent on building a wall to keep out all the not white people, inciting enough anger to cause a civil war fit for Captain American and Iron Man. I know which reality I find more ridiculous. But isn’t the fictional TV show meant to be the one producing all the drama? I mean, who’s doing the parodying here? If it’s not HoC then we might as well start binge-watching the news instead.
That’s not to say that season 4 has been a disappointment; on the contrary, the show always delivers quality, as is the trend with anything Netflix produces and renders us bedridden like a heroin addict that hasn’t seen the light of day for 48 hours. And there’s just enough suspension of belief required to keep it on the side of fantasy; one of the main arcs involves Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), the First Lady, running for Vice President. I’ve heard of couples in the same workplace but that’s just taking the piss. Aside from that, it’s all a bit too believable. Frank is desperately clinging onto his presidency like a towel precariously covering your dad’s knob, so he hasn’t got time to carry out his usual bastardry. He’s also in the midst of an election campaign while handling threats from a terrorist organisation whose name sounds like that of a wholesale store.
If you’re an observant motherfucker, you will have noticed the stark parallels to real life in all that. But the problem with mimicking true events is that the show occasionally forgets to be itself. The bleak, film noir stylisation of the first and second seasons is almost completely replaced by brighter aesthetics and a modern tone that seems more suited to Homeland. But there’s nothing nearly as dramatic as a ginger suicide bomber going on here. Frank doesn’t address the audience as much as he used to, either. There’s one instance where he monologues about his frictional relationship with Claire while making a peanut butter jelly sandwich. The most disconcerting thing about that scene is that he doesn’t clean the knife before putting it in the other jar. Dirty bugger. However, they do get inventive with some of his fourth wall breaking: his thoughts are now visualised, which means he can use props and other characters to demonstrate how he’s rimming the electorate.
But being corrupt just isn’t enough anymore. They reintroduce Joel Kinnaman – the actor I shall forever refer to as ‘the shit RoboCop’ – as Frank’s Republican opposition, and despite being a social media-savvy politician with an annoyingly ‘perfect’ family, he’s just as bent as the rest of them. The most enjoyable dynamic is obviously between Frank and Claire – the will-they-won’t-they get back together and rule the galaxy vibe persists throughout the season. The treatment of their relationship is the one thing preventing the show from completely mirroring real life. That’s something the writers will want to build on if they’re going to compete with the ridiculousness of Biff from Back to the Future and that puppet that has Bill Clinton’s hand stuffed up its arse.