Party Politics

Netflix’s move to acquire David Fincher’s remake of the acid British political miniseries House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey as political wheeler-dealer Francis Urquhart, is a huge move. This is streaming video and DVD company’s first move into original content, and it’s started at the top of the critical spectrum, outbidding HBO for a prestige series, rather than dabbling in web shorts with low production costs. But aside from the question of whether Netflix’s gamble will pay off, letting the company gain some independence from the studios it needs to strike syndication deals with, I have a basic question about the material. Is the remake going to be set in Parliament like the original? Or will Fincher take it across the pond to the U.S.?Everything else about the project is encouraging: Fincher doesn’t really have a major misstep in his career. Spacey’s career has certainly been uneven, but the highs are much more significant than the errors. If the show is set in the U.K., Spacey will be more steeped in British culture than most American actors stepping into iconic British roles — he’s been the artistic director of London’s Old Vic theater since 2003.But it’s hard to imagine how the show would work if the setting was translated from Parliament to Congress; the politics simply aren’t equivalent. That was one of the many things that didn’t quite work about the State of Play remake: a single Congressman could never have his party over a barrel in the same way that a single, rising MP could. And while Rahm Emanuel proves that in American politics, you can both be a dark-hearted kingmaker and a successful politician, he’s pulled off a very rare double act. In the States, there’s a strict divide between the people we elect, and the people who work to elect them — characters like In the Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker and Urquhart are supposed to stay behind the curtain of American politics. So if Fincher and Spacey move the show here, they’ll face a tough dynamic: either Urquhart will have to be strictly a kingmaker, something that doesn’t allow as much of an arc over the large episode order Netflix has committed to, or he’ll have to be watered down to be a plausible political contender. And if they keep the show in Parliament, they’ll have to attract a significant American audience to a series where the mechanisms of politics that govern the plot developments aren’t intuitive to them. Either way, there are significant risks, but Fincher’s never found someone so repulsive he can’t make them fascinating.