A lot of people have been watching the melodramatic political series House of Cards on Netflix (which I believe is a remake of the highly acclaimed "How a Bill Becomes a Law" episode of Schoolhouse Rock), and many of these viewers are complaining about how silly it is. They're not wrong, but they're failing to see the opportunity here. With a few small changes, House of Cards could go from a so-so drama to one of the greatest comedies of our time.
Needless to say, the following article will pretty much consist entirely of spoilers. Please stop reading if you don't want to find out that Frank is actually not the original werewolf and that his death at the hands of President Van Helsing does not end the werewolf plague.
Anyway, make your choice -- I've got to get started, there's a lot to get through here. So here's what I'm suggesting:
I figure I'll start with this in case the clumsy eyes of some people who don't know how to skip spoilers stumble on down this far. The very first thing anyone finds out about this show is that the main character, Frank Underwood, talks to the camera a lot. Breaking the ol' fourth wall, if you will. This device can sometimes be daring and sometimes be what we in the business refer to as "too precious by half." Personally, I would say House of Cards is leaning heavily toward preciousness in this case.
DISCLAIMER: May not be actual dialogue from the show.
But this is a really easy lemon to turn into lemonade. These fourth wall hijinks can be turned from an overly cute narrative device into a subtle chronicle of a man losing his mind with just a few camera angle changes.
I'd suggest ramping it up slowly, maybe for the first one or even two episodes just doing the regular "talking to the camera" thing, no change. Then maybe right at the end of the second episode, while Frank is monologing at the audience, switch to a slightly different camera angle as he keeps yakking at what you can now see is a blank wall.
"Holy shit," the viewers will say to each other, "he's talking to nobody!" It will be quite the topic of conversation at the water cooler over the next week, except that all the episodes are released at once, so it actually won't.
For the next episode, when everybody will be watching his monologues intently, you start having the actors in the background sneak glances at him, really subtle ones, like they're trying to look like they're not looking. By midway through the season, a character spots Frank talking to himself and nudges another person in the background, who shakes their head and discourages the first person from calling attention to it. Slowly the viewer realizes that everyone around Frank knows about his problem, and they're all worried about him but don't want to bring it up because they're scared of him.
It comes to a head when he's on the House floor during a crucial vote or speech or whatever, maybe he's even on national TV, and he just stops in the middle and starts talking to the "audience," which today happens to be located on an empty chair nearby. And he's just totally dishing about his evil plans.
Then there's this huge scandal, and I think that'll be some great material for the writers. You'd think something like this would end his political career and therefore the show, but it'll be OK -- you can just have Iran get nuked or Justin Bieber get assassinated and people will forget about a middling news item like a congressman going crazy on the House floor and telling a chair he's going to make those sons of bitches pay.
I expect the writers to put up a fuss about that last idea because it destroys the whole premise of the show they spent years creating, boo hoo. Writers are so sensitive. But fine, if they don't have the skill to write a show about a mentally ill man slowly losing touch with reality until he eventually believes he has become president and thinks he's walking around the Oval Office when he is actually pacing around a padded cell punching an imaginary desk -- if they don't have the guts to handle that kind of visionary edge -- then I'll suggest a weaker alternative.
Viewers may have noticed that as the show progresses Frank starts saying less and less, and his asides often consist of him giving the camera a three-second look of exasperation before turning back to the other characters, as if the writers ran out of things for him to say. This seems lazy to me. They might as well have him say, "Insert pithy observation here!" If you have to meet a quota for fourth wall moments per episode and can't think of anything for Frank to say, then throw some "fun facts" at the audience. Like the president is droning on and Frank turns to the camera and says, "Did you know the loudest animal in the world is the pistol shrimp?" and then turns back toward the president like nothing happened.
From a comedy perspective, it's really hard to improve on Slugline. First, it's called Slugline. Second, the offices of this fictional news blogging site were apparently designed by someone who has seen pictures of them wacky workplaces all the hip startup companies have and seems to have confused the conference rooms and lounges with the actual workspaces where employees work.
They seem to think cool tech people view desks as restrictive or something. This is why you have some poor lady sitting on an office chair trying to balance her laptop/tablet on her lap while typing.
See, what cutting edge blogging companies hate is walls, but they loooooove desks.
That's BuzzFeed. It's not exactly a nest of beanbags and bar stools, is it?
So, sure, it's funny that Slugline's office was designed by a space alien that saw a photo of an empty startup office and made all kinds of assumptions, like they saw a ping pong table and said, "I bet that surface is used as a desk!" I think they should go broader, though, and spend more time on it (we get only a few glimpses).
I think people should sit on the ping pong table while setting their laptop on a beanbag, leaning down awkwardly to try to reach it. I think people's accessories should keep falling through the cracks in the pallets they're using as a table and they say "God dammit!" and pick up their mice and styluses, but never consider leaving the pallets and finding a better surface. I think the laptop should fall off of that poor lady's lap and break so she has to bring it up to the editor and ask for a replacement, and the editor just sighs and goes "That's the seventh one this week. Why does this keep happening?"
"Maybe we need MORE PALLETS!"
This show isn't big on subtlety. When they address politicians being in bed with corporate interests, they have a politician literally in bed with a corporate lobbyist.
I think this is great but needs to be taken further. For example, when Frank bribes congressmen with pork for their districts, he should literally roll barrels of butchered pig parts over to their offices. The writers really seem to enjoy having characters murder animals with their bare hands as shorthand for how ruthless they are, so this will provide a lot of great opportunities for Frank to kill pigs in different ways every time he has to trade for political favors.
"Can I count on your vote for the education bill?"
Speaking of animal cruelty, at one point Big Businessman Raymond Tusk snaps a bird's neck for making too much noise. I think this is a missed opportunity. Instead of snapping its neck, he should have bashed its head in with a rock and then killed the bird's wife when she made a big stink over it, using the same rock. He could do this in the midst of a phone call where he comes up with a plan that solves two of his problems.