It's been a year since Netflix's political thriller House of Cards outraged and addicted Washingtonians (about 50,000 years ago in blogger years). Because Season 2 starts Friday, we're here to remind you what you hate most about the show. So, you know, you'll have your office talking points ready.
What follows is an annoted version of our discussion over G-chat, the medium you'll most likely use to complain about the show to your friends on Monday. You're welcome!
Lucia Graves: I'll begin with my No. 1 reason to hate this show: its horrible portrayal of lady journalists and their alleged willingness to sleep their way to the top. In particular, there's veteran writer Janine Skorsky's assertion that "we've all done it." I don't know any woman in Washington who's "done it" to get ahead, but I know that some guy in Wyoming is going to watch the show and be like, "Knew it!" People are always asking me, "Is your life like House of Cards?" and it's very awkward.
Matt Vasilogambros: I used to feel dirty going to events, shaking hands, making pointless small talk—"Oh, I haven't gone to Le Diplomate yet, but I hear the duck confit is quite good"—and drinking free booze, but then this show came around and added a whole new definition of being used. Yea, Zoe's technique isn't the way you source-build in this town. Ugh, THIS TOWN.
LG: So did the show make you feel better about us? Were you like, "At least we're not as terrible as THESE people?" Because I know it's not just lady journalists who get a bad rep in the show. Frank Underwood, the House majority whip, actually kills a man for political gain.
MV: Yeah, I don't think Kevin McCarthy has done anything that drastic before. I mean, I THINK he hasn't.
LG: Right, but he would have us think that.
MV: He would have members of his rowdy caucus think that too.
LG: I guess it just disturbs me that people love watching Washington so much (think Homeland, House of Cards, Scandal, The Americans, Veep), and this is how they see us. I remember when I got a job on the Hill as a press person right out of college and someone from home was like, "So you're a professional liar now?" People are so cynical! We're just here trying to save the world. Sheesh.
MV: I had one of those same press jobs on the Hill, too. I think people forget that what Hill staffers are doing an overwhelming majority of the time is writing letters back to constituents and answering angry phone calls from folks not even in that congressional district. Then for even fewer it's working on policy in committees. A even smaller group is writing floor speeches. And an even smaller handful are those "senior leadership aides."
LG: Yeah, a more realistic show would show long hours, frumpy blazers, and a whole lot of monotony. You think the show gets anything right?
MV: The one thing that Hollywood's representation of Washington gets right is the alcohol and happy hours.
LG: Yes, the drinking culture is hard to keep up with.
MV: It could focus on brunch more, though.
LG: Yeah, but brunches aren't a replacement for bar time.
MV: Brunch is a consequence of bar time.
MV: So, what do you think the show gets right?
LG: It gets a lot right. There's a great interview with Beau Williamson about how much time they spent getting the details right, the doorknobs and desk decor. I also think the show's a lot better on politics than media. The stuff about the high schoolish nature of power, I mean. Frank Underwood does a lot of playing people's egos off one another, à la, "Mr. President, you won't believe what the vice president was saying about you ..." I think a lot of people never outgrow that.
Frank doesn't get into the high school pettiness himself, but he exploits it in other people. He's sort of like Harry Reid in that way. He doesn't care about having his ego stroked or going on Sunday talk shows: What he prides himself on his being effective.
MV: I think that's right. There are some outstanding problems that I have with this show, if you would indulge me.
First, most of the outdoors scenes are filmed in Baltimore. Now, I know how much of a pain in the ass it is to film in the District, but don't show me the Washington Monument of Baltimore and expect me to think it's THE Washington Monument.
The second is the coordination between Zoe and her boyfriend on the Russo story in the last episode. They work for separate publications. When was the last time you worked on a big story with your former colleagues at HuffPo?
Finally, the amount of Frank Underwood asides to the camera would make William Shakespeare blush. Sometimes it's nice; other times, it's just excessive. But maybe that's what this show is: excessive.
Rant over. Thank you.
LG: Oh, I don't think the coordination between Zoe and her journalist boyfriend is that weird. Obviously it's problematic and clearly he should recuse himself, but I get why he'd want to help his partner. And I love the Frank Underwood asides! Those are the best part.
MV: What's the biggest takeaway for our haters out there?
LG: I think haters should take inspiration from Carrie Underwood, who is, to my mind, the best embodiment of Washington on the show. She's dark but not too dark, practical with a soul.
MV: Taking a baseball bat to the car of her cheating boyfriend?! "I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights." It's a good song ...
LG: Wait, did she do that? Oh, crud! I mean CLAIRE Underwood.
MV: Ha-ha! OK, so Frank's wife not the country singer?
LG: Yes! Played by Robin Wright who just won a Golden Globe award.
MV: Of Princess Bride fame, yes. Sorry, so what about her again?
LG: Just that her character is one of the most realistic on the show. She genuinely cares about her work with the Clean Water Initiative, even if she makes compromises and hatches deals along the way. And she genuinely loves Frank/Kevin Spacey, even as they both have dalliances with other people. And she's the person at the end of the season to step back and ask, "What's it all for?"
MV: I also see some redemption for Zoe Barnes coming. After she realizes that sleeping with Frank Underwood was the wrong move and starts acting like the journalist that we grew up wanting to be—the Woodward/Bernstein types—and uncovers the story behind it all, she may actually turn out to be a hero character. But that could just be my naive hope.
I think the biggest takeaway is, watch the show, laugh at the absurdity, enjoy the excessiveness, scoff at the inaccuracies, and have enough ammo to hate on the show at work come Monday.