The Revolution Was Not Televised
I just finished watching a revolution. Not a revolution in the historical sense that most people would think of but a new creative revolution. I just got done watching the first season of House of Cards. Some of you may be familiar with this particular series. It was a show starring many great stars such as Robin Wright, Kate Mara, and Kevin Spacey and was developed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network) and written by Beau Willimon (The Ides of March). It might also be the best show first season of any show I’ve seen since Breaking Bad.
For those unfamiliar with the concept House of Cards is based off of a series of novels as well as a 90’s BBC miniseries. The show was independently developed and auction off. While many expected television bidders tried to get the series (HBO being the most prominent) Netflix ended up winning the bidding war and many wondered how it would go.
Well I’m here to tell you that House of Cards is the first step in the revolution of online television programming.
I’ve recently been reading the book The Revolution Was Televised by Alan Sepinwall. It may not be immediately apparent why I bring this up but hear me out. In this book Sepinwall discusses the television shows that shaped what he called the new Golden Age of Television. These shows include some of the greatest shows of the past ten to fifteen years such as The Sopranos and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. However, I feel that Speinwall is kicking himself right now because I feel that House of Cards has been the biggest leap forward in televised entertainment since The Sopranos hit our screens over ten years ago.
Sepinwall describes in this book how The Sopranos changed everything because up until that point no one had taken cable television seriously when it came to pumping out creative content. Original series on cable were mere larks that never came close to the quality of television. Then came The Sopranos (and you can make the argument that Oz started this trend even before The Sopranos did). The Sopranos dominated American culture and became the most talked about show of its television generation and it opened the gate for all of the great television that we enjoy on cable TV to this day (Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Louie, and Mad Men just to name a few). On top of that, The Sopranos was a damn good show and deserves all of the critical praise it has received over the years.
It is my personal opinion that House of Cards is to internet television what The Sopranos was to cable TV programming. Up until this point, series produced exclusively for the internet have merely been fancier versions of YouTube shows and no one has taken them seriously as legitimate television.
However, House of Cards just changed that. I won’t go into too much detail about it but it truly is one of the best seasons of television that you can watch. Whether it’s the absolutely breathtaking performances from both Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright or the beautiful style that of cinematography that is obviously Fincher’s doing, there is a lot to love about this show. That is on the internet. On top of that already massive step forward in internet entertainment the show was also produced by Netflix which did not have any sort of commercials throughout any of the episodes. Massive. On top of that the show is able to build momentum by being able to cast off the usual television ideals of having a huge event before any commercial break so that no one will change the channel. This allowed the show to build momentum through an entire episode and not spending and then recharging that flow every 20 minutes like shows on any other network had to. Huge. Finally, and I think most importantly House of Cards was released all at once and not strung out episodically over weeks and weeks. Revolutionary. This may not immediately seem like a big deal, however this small fact completely changed the rules of what House of Cards could do. House of Cards was not only able to build moment through each episode, it was able to build stylistic and story momentum that I don’t think is possible for a show that is released week by week. This show is meant to be watched all at once and because of that David Fincher and company were able to play with massive ideals and philosophies that most shows cannot simply because their viewership can forget week to week. There is no “Previously On…” segment, there are no flashbacks, and on top of that this show demands your attention. Some of the greatest moments can be missed in a single second and if you do miss these moments you will be lost. This show embraces metanarrative like no other show I’ve seen and the pay off towards the end is so incredibly rewarding that you feel like the time to watch the show was time well spent. There are several moments that are nothing short of stunning (the last three episodes are literally heart poundingly good). And that is why this show is revolutionary. Up until now, shows with heavy metanarrative have had the trouble of viewership which dropped off and then became increasingly difficult to pick that viewership back up due to old viewers having so much to catch up on. With House of Cards this is no longer a problem! The system of binge watching a show (the way most Americans these days prefer to watch television) is built into the show itself and is almost assumed to be the method of viewership.
If you haven’t watched House of Cards yet I strongly recommend you change that as soon as possible. If you don’t have a Netflix account, get one. It’ll only cost you $8 a month and even if House of Cards is the only thing you watch it’ll be money well spent. The show is amazing and the first step in a new revolution of long form storytelling. A revolution that will happen on the internet and will not be televised.
House of Cards (2013) IMDb page http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856010/?ref_=sr_1
House of Cards (1990) IMDb page http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098825/?ref_=sr_2
The Sopranos IMDb page http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0141842/?ref_=sr_1
Netflix buys David Fincher’s ‘House of Cards’ http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/03/18/official-netflix-buys-david-finchers-house-of-cards/
The Revolution Was Televised Amazon page http://www.amazon.com/The-Revolution-Was-Televised-Slingers/dp/0615718299