We're legally allowed to say it's great, but that's it
(This review contains spoilers about the first season of “House of Cards,” but not the new season debuting Friday.)
Netflix required me, and I assume everyone reviewing the new season of “House of Cards,” to sign a document promising “to not disclose specific storyline information, including episodic spoiler information,” about the show. It bars me from revealing anything through “blogging, tweeting, texting, and posting to message boards, IMDB, fansites, or any form of social media.”
Normally, I'd find this obnoxious. Why would they assume I'd want to spoil anyone's fun? But this one time, I get it.
The secrets of the new season are well worth preserving — and I'd suggest watching at least the premiere episode as fast as you can, before some jerk ruins it for you.
I've read some critics who sound respectful but not blown away by the new season. I admire their poker faces, because I didn't have one. As I watched the first three episodes of Season 2, my eyes bugged out. I shook my head. I laughed. I rewound, a lot. It was great.
I won't go too deeply into what happens, both because of the legalistic thing I signed and because I possess nowhere near the storytelling powers of writer Beau Willimon and director David Fincher. They and their gifted actors tell the story of scheming politician Frank Underwood better than I ever could. The show exudes panache.
But I will say this: After the murderous events of Season 1, I wondered how Season 2 could possibly up the ante (Netflix's legal document required me to include at least three poker-related puns). We've seen Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood save an alcoholic congressman, only to destroy him. Could he possibly do anything worse?
Spoiler alert (sue me, Netflix):
The show isn't perfect. Spacey said recently that one criticism he's heard about Season 1 is that it was 99 percent realistic — “and the 1 percent that wasn't was that you could never get an education bill passed that fast.”
My complaints about the new season revolve around that 1 percent. The show is better as a human drama than a political procedural, thank God. As American voters are depressingly aware, nothing in Washington gets done as fast as it does on “House of Cards.”
Maybe that's what's so cathartic about the show — so this is how grown-ups might run a government.
Or maybe there's another reason for all those backroom deals.
The wheeling dealing feels fake a lot of the time, but the fact that it's so complicated makes “House of Cards” seem more important than “Scandal,” for example — even though it isn't. The whisperings about how a bill becomes a law don't actually teach us anything about how a bill becomes a law, and certainly don't get education bills passed in the real world.
But they flatter us, invest us — and make for great television. Lots of people have complained about Spacey's direct addresses to we, the viewers. But those asides lure us in, too.
The show itself may be a house of cards, built on brilliantly executed cheats and bluffs. But what grumpy fundamentalist doesn't like cards? Nobody I want to meet.
“House of Cards” Season 2 starts streaming on Netflix on Friday. Hurry.