Sean P Carlin

Writer of things that go bump in the night

Month: July 2014

Sleight of Hand: The Deceptive Hero of “House of Cards”

Caught myself up on the first season of House of Cards this past weekend.  I know, I know.  But, better late than never, right?  After all, isn’t that the advantage of on-demand viewing?  Nowadays, a good series is always available to be discovered.

There are shows that I tune into and consciously try to like, and then there are those that win me over midway through their pilot episode without any premeditated cooperation on my part.  House of Cards falls squarely in the latter category.  It’s a classic Institutionalized story, which Blake Snyder defines as any tale about the “crazy” or self-destructive group dynamics of an institution—in this case, Congress.  Washington is well-represented in political television drama at present, but I certainly haven’t seen a series in which power plays are an end unto themselves:  The movers and shakers that populate House of Cards make no attempt to justify their self-serving agendas with hollow allegiances of fealty to the Republic.  And protagonist Frank Underwood’s stylized, Shakespearean asides to camera—a tough trick to pull off (Kevin Spacey makes it look so natural, hence his consecutive Emmy nominations for the first two seasons)—lend an intimacy that endears the audience to a character with which we might not otherwise be predisposed to empathize.  (He works for Congress, after all, and have you seen their approval numbers of late?)  Like most serialized protagonists, Frank is comprised of five key traits; I’m eager to get on with the second season, so let’s take a quick look at them:

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Like Clockwork:  The Inner Workings of Jack Bauer

This is the first in a series of posts on characterization, in which I reverse-engineer a psychological profile for an established fictional character.

Four years ago, the clock ran out on 24, the groundbreaking “real-time” television drama starring Kiefer Sutherland as indefatigable counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer.  A writer on Lost once told me how much he loved 24 for being such an immersive entertainment experience:  It made him completely forget, as he watched it, that he was both a television scribe and a liberal!  Indeed, the series remained so reliably entertaining throughout its initial eight-season run that its often outlandish plot twists never seemed to irrevocably strain the audience’s willingness to suspend disbelief, nor did its occasionally controversial depictions of both Muslims and the use of torture overshadow its legacy as an evolutionary pioneer in serialized television.

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