AFTER having just binge-watched the entire third season of House Of Cards, I think I can agree with many of the critics out there who went … “meh”.
It’s not that the season is that dire or anything. But something has been done to the show’s formula to make it less engaging – something, I believe, that could be called “the Poochie Syndrome”.
Set the wayback machine, Sherman, to that classic episode of The Simpsons where the creators of subversive cartoon-within-a-cartoon Itchy And Scratchy are grappling with the malaise affecting the show. Lisa Simpson gives the best insight where she says that after so many episodes, it’s hard to have the same effect on viewers. The show has simply lost its novelty value.
But the creators decide to tweak with the formula – to tweak, as it were, the “dramaturgical dyad” behind Itchy And Scratchy. Enter Poochie: the skateboarding dog with attitude. He’s extreme. He’s edgy. He’s whatever buzzwords the focus groups behind capturing the younger demographic want him to be.
Poochie proves to be a disaster and is soon written out of the show (much to Homer’s chagrin). Yet I can’t help but think that some of the problems of Poochie’s brief stardom also plague the story of Francis and Claire Underwood.
One of them is awkward writing and sudden plot jumps, perhaps most obvious when you watch the show all at once rather than week by week.
Remember how Poochie is suddenly written out of the show? Where, out of the blue, he announces, “I have to go now, my planet needs me”? Followed by a note on the screen that says “Poochie died on the way back to his home planet”?
Season three of House Of Cards is full of moments like that. Characters that have been part of major arcs for several episodes disappear without trace, as if they have been rapidly recalled to their home planet. In one particular instance which I won’t spoil in case you haven’t seen it, the disappearance of one seemingly pivotal senator is explained away with a two- or three-sentence aside from Francis.
It’s the dramatic equivalent of the “Poochie died on the way back to his home planet” note.
Poochie inconsistencies also plague the plot. One episode Francis insists that the Russians must be part of a peacekeeping mission in the Jordan Valley in the Middle East – despite the fact that the Russians would have no real reason for sending troops to that quagmire of a region.
“The Russians must be part of it!” he roars. Then, barely an episode or two later, he’s suddenly dead-set against the Russians being there. “They have to get out!” he insists, as if he played no part in getting them there.
One would need the mental dexterity and convenient amnesia of a citizen of 1984’s Oceania to accept this flip-flopping reality.
The stakes they are fighting for continually shift and turn, testing the credulity of any intelligent viewer. One episode Francis is doomed to electoral failure. The next he’s back on top as if nothing had ever happened … as if, in fact, “Poochie” was never there in the first place.
President Francis’s AmWorks (America Works) campaign isn’t fleshed out, either. He wants to provide full employment by cutting social security – yet there is scant detail to explain the scheme. Also, Francis is supposed to be a Democrat president: the social-security-slashing AmWorks sounds more like a Republican scheme. Surely a Democrat president wouldn’t be taking an axe to Obama’s hard-won Obamacare?
Are you there, Poochie?
And would the President really be forced to raid the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a measly $3 billion to prop up AmWorks? The US economy is a $17-trillion-dollar juggernaut: $3 billion is loose change you’d find under the couch. More “Poochie” writing.
The “dramaturgical dyad” of Francis and Claire has also been tampered with, to dubious effect. Remember Homer Simpson’s suggestion about Poochie that, whenever he wasn’t on the screen, Itchy and Scratchy would constantly ask, “Where’s Poochie?” I feel that Francis and Claire have succumbed to the same problem. They’re constantly on the phone to each other or demanding to be put in touch with each other, barely content to enjoy any solo screen time.
“Where’s Francis? Where’s Claire?”
I’m not sure how House Of Cards solves its Poochie problem. Maybe, as Lisa Simpson would say, after the cracking first season, we’re just not sure how to take House Of Cards, particularly now that Francis Underwood has gone from underdog senator to overdog President.
Perhaps the next move, as in the original House of Cards series, is to see Francis lose his position – to be called back to his home planet.
Although let’s hope he doesn’t die on the way there.
My ebook military thriller, The Spartan, is out now on Amazon.