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I admit, I started into watching this more out of curiosity rather than enthusiasm. The original BBC show is splendid, and with its setting in distinguished circles of British politics, it provides an almost insurmountable discrepancy between sophisticated outer appearance and the inner workings, driven by insatiable greed for power. To recreate this in a Washington setting takes off the edge a bit, because betrayal and despair, sex and murder, and virtually everything that is corrupt and vile is the expected rather than the surprising in today’s D.C. system, isn’t it (at least when you’re religiously watching The Daily Show, as I do)?

There are some items about the remake that stand out: casting Robin Wright as a much more active wife of party whip Francis Underwood, allocating her some own pieces on the chess board of politics is what struck me first. Knowing as we do where the story will lead us (if we saw the UK show and if that is any indication about where the US show will be going) that is a good move, and Robin Wright is terrific in what she’s doing, having processed her Carmela Soprano episodes very diligently, establishing a character that is torn between lust for power, heightened pragmatism, and the realisation that this just does not work if there is any aspect of humanity or just biology left inside you. She is suffering without causing sympathy, whatever she is heading towards (more power, more cruelty, less love, or utter sidelining, who knows…), she will deserve it, having sold her soul to the devil, whom she loves and admires, and believes (against indications to the contrary, I would say) that she is loved back. Underwood’s better sentences in the first season, casually spoken to the audience, is “I love that woman, I love her more than sharks love blood”. I am sure that sentence’s interpretation will continue to shift over the seasons.

Underwood himself: this is the hardest bit, I guess, because Ian Richardson plays the original Francis Urquhart so demonic, so perfect as the central manipulator of the political system that you can only fail in comparison. Kevin Spacey does not fail, but he also does not add anything noteworthy to the character that would impress those who know the BBC original. For those being exposed to the Underwood character for the first time, I am sure this works just fine, he is ice cold in his moves, mostly in control of the situation, rarely angry, always willing to make the move that he deems necessary.

My favourite character is actually Underwood’s minion, Doug Stamper, played by Michael Kelly, who has to physically move the pieces when the Master decides on a move, who has to keep an eye on everything that’s going on, keeping open doors for future action, and who at the same time is not immune to affection and disgust, it seems. His relationship with hooker Rachel is among the finest pieces of the Season, he is credible in his caring for her, yet cold blooded when it comes to calling in favours, even though these favours may destroy that girl.

There are many good, some great performances in the first season, but what really convinced me that the US remake has a value of its own is the role of congressman Peter Russo, tortured by his past, used and abused by Underwood, spit out when trampled on, still full of hope as long as he could, at every twist and turn willing to believe in the next chance.  Great performance by Corey Stoll.

At the end of the season, I could not help but think “ah, American remake after all…”, as they shied away from following the original in what I considered to be a key plot point, to do with the role of journalist Zoe. I kept thinking all the time that had they stuck with the original, the build-up would have been really great, even better in the BBC show in that Zoe’s part is more personal, more elaborated. As it turns out, they seem to have different plans, either because they want to avoid merely replicating the original’s plot, or because they believe American shows have to follow different rules for being “meaningful” and acceptable to the audience. I was a bit disappointed by the season finale, because I felt a bit “robbed” of what could have been a major tv moment. Maybe that’s all still to come, as it was, the season anti-climaxed a bit. Still looking forward to the next one.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856010/

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