When real world pol­i­tics are scarier than ic­tion

Trump’s reign ren­ders House of Cards ir­rel­e­vant

StarMetro Vancouver - - FRONT PAGE - tony Wong life@metronews.ca

Spoiler alert: Story has de­tails of pre­vi­ous sea­sons

Frank Un­der­wood is a killer.

We know this be­cause the fic­tional pres­i­dent once shoved a re­porter in front of a sub­way car. Finely and in­dul­gently played by Kevin Spacey, Un­der­wood is mer­cu­rial, cun­ning and the most dan­ger­ous man on tele­vi­sion.

Yet cur­rent events have con­spired to make the in­fa­mous fake pres­i­dent seem re­duc­tive and, im­prob­a­bly, smaller than life.

House of Cards re­turns for a fifth sea­son, with Spacey and first lady Claire Un­der­wood (Robin Wright) as the rulers of an al­ter­nate Camelot, a kind of so­cio­pathic Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton. At any other time this would be sub­stan­tive, trippy en­ter­tain­ment. The dark­ness of the show played well dur­ing the seem­ing naïveté of an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. And then came Don­ald Trump. Spacey plays Un­der­wood on TV like it was writ­ten by Shake­speare, a politi­cian who plays three-di­men­sional chess when the other guys are play­ing hop­scotch af­ter a dozen beers. The beauty of House of Cards was that it took you deep into the bow­els of the West Wing, while our anti-hero pres­i­dent van­quished foes like a true Master of Whis­per­ers. It some­times took an en­tire sea­son to pass a cru­cial piece of leg­is­la­tion us­ing those dark arts. But the de­tails were ex­quis­ite.

Now there is Trump. Sud­denly it’s ap­par­ent that you don’t need ex­pe­ri­ence, or smarts, or even a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of world af­fairs to be pres­i­dent. While Spacey’s play­book is right out of Machi­avelli’s The Prince, Trump is ab­surdly car­toon­ish, his clumsy ma­noeu­vres stolen from Wres­tle-Ma­nia. That’s not sur­pris­ing, since the pres­i­dent sits in the WWE Hall of Fame.

With Trump we have learned that sophistry does not win you points. Or an elec­tion. Why be like Frank Un­der­wood, del­i­cately tap danc­ing through congress when the blunt in­stru­ment of an ex­ec­u­tive order is far more to the point?

Trump doesn’t care about the fine print, and so far, de­spite stum­bling past his first 100 days, he’s still gamely hang­ing on, a wounded, an­gry crea­ture. Un­der­wood’s south­ern charm is be­nign by com­par­i­son.

Like HBO’s com­edy Veep, about a nar­cis­sis­tic, over-thetop politi­cian cling­ing to power played by Ju­lia Louis-Drey­fus, House of Cards has been usurped by re­al­ity. It’s hard to sat­i­rize a pres­i­dent who is sat­i­riz­ing him­self.

Still, House of Cards has of­ten veered into ex­cess, shar­ing more DNA with Veep than All The Pres­i­dent’s Men as it ca­reened from drama to black par­ody.

That seemed ev­i­dent last sea­son when the pres­i­dent de­cided to put his wife on the ticket as the vice-pres­i­dent. That sort of nepo­tism would be laugh­able — and ar­guably, it de­tracted from the re­al­ism of the show.

But then Trump put his daugh­ter Ivanka in the White House and let his son-in-law Jared Kush­ner han­dle for­eign af­fairs, all the while con­tin­u­ing to bla­tantly profit in his busi­ness from po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions while a spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tor de­cides whether his staff was col­lud­ing with Rus­sians.

Rest in peace, House of Cards. You de­liv­ered a de­cent sea­son with fine per­for­mances. But the world has, in­com­pre­hen­si­bly, passed you by.


Kevin spacey and Robin Wright re­turn for a fifth sea­son of House of Cards.

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