Thursday, March 12, 2015

Little Screen – Big Dramas

Many of the great TV dramas have come from Great Britain. There are exceptions — “The Wire,” for example.  Even some made in the U.S.A. classics are Mother country inspired.  One of those is “House of Cards.”  If you haven’t seen the British original, please do.  It is well worth the time.  It is British in the best senses of the word. Smart. Funny.  Droll.  Discreetly nasty. However that does not diminish the expertise of the very American adaptation, which steals the premise and some of the original’s theatrical devices, but gets the behind the scenes, sausage-making aspects of Washington D.C. all too well.  The American version is darker and perhaps grittier. 
Kevin Spacey As President Underwood

All three seasons are available from Netflix, the result of a successful and mimicked experiment whereby content deliverers produce their own content.  Actor Kevin Spacey is the prime player as an amoral, ambitious politician.  It is difficult to imagine anyone else in the role.  He is matched well with on-screen-wife and partner in crime Robin Wright. One wonders — and I’m sure there are those who don’t wonder at all — if this isn’t meant to be the Clintons. The events, however, seem psychically current. In the third season President Underwood must confront a bullying thug of a Russian leader who is remarkably Putinesque. The plots and cliff-hanging subplots keep us binging. David Fincher is likely the strongest-behind the scenes presence in the American version. The original was based on the novel by Michael Dobbs.

Felicity Huffman As Victim's Mother In American Crime
No doubt spurred by cable channels producing must-see TV (“Shameless,” “Breaking Bad,” “True Detective”) the networks popped out of their coma.  “American Crime” is the result of ABC deciding quality and originality might be marketable concepts. Timothy Hutton portrays a father whose life has been beaten into near submission, and Felicity Huffman plays his ex-wife, inconsolably unhappy and unbendingly angry that life refuses to live up to her convictions. Performances from the two veterans are top–notch as are those of the supporting cast, though their presence is brief in the first episode. The premiere set the tone for what appears to be an exploration of race and class in America through the drama set up by a horrendous crime in Modesto.  John Ridley, best known for writing 12 years A Slave, created the series, which is, so far, excellent. Tonight is episode 2.

“House of Cards” delivers and “American Crime” promises to deliver what most TV shows can’t or won’t — theater for the small screen that embraces big ideas and wide screen vision. And as we supersize our home screens, the difference is becoming negligible.

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