ON DEMAND TELEVISION AND FILM SERVICE Netflix went live with its first homegrown show today, a dramatisation of Michael Dobbs's political thriller House of Cards.
We've seen House of Cards before. It was on in 1990 and featured Ian Richardson as a kind of political pantomime villain. His was a character that would be hard to top, but it was always likely that the team behind the remake, a collaboration of Kevin Spacey and David Fincher, was up to the task.
Any show that starts with a man talking to the camera and then strangling a dog is hoping to make a big impression, and Netflix's House of Cards is a stylish, twisty, turny, head spinner of a treat.
Thirteen episodes are live. Doubtless many people are making their way through all of them, since Netflix has put them all online at once, as it does with any series that it licenses. We watched just the first episode and came up for air.
Netflix will be hoping to make a big splash with House of Cards, the first of its self-funded shows to be released and its first big challenge to other broadcast channels and services, like cable and dedicated pay TV channels like Sky Atlantic.
Soon it will show its cult comedy series Arrested Development, and apparently the plan is to create as much of its own content as it can. Netflix has some 30 million subscribers, so if it can get all of them watching its own content then it will be a very serious broadcaster indeed. To tempt the public it is offering the first episode of House of Cards to non-subscribers.
Kevin Spacey plays veteran Congressman Francis 'Frank' Underwood, the Ian Richardson role, and it's him that strangles the dog. He's putting it out of it's misery in a calm and calculated manner.
"There are two kinds of pain," he says, "The sort of pain that makes you strong and useless pain, the sort of pain that's only suffering. I have no patience for useless things." Gulp. He adds that he is the man that "Will act, do, the unpleasant thing. The necessary thing."
We should have known everything we needed to know about Frank from the picture Netflix uses of him. He has blood on his hands people. Blood. On his hands. "A ruthless Congressman, Francis Underwood, will stop at nothing to conquer everything in this wicked political drama about power, sex, love and greed," added the blurb.
The bad news is, he works as the Majority Whip of the US House of Representatives and does not like the President of the US. "Welcome to Washington," he says. His problem is that he was promised a nomination for the position of Secretary of state, and then denied it. This, he says, "is a chicken shit move".
His people, people he says he put in power and back, want to keep him where he is, in Congress. This, we imagine, will prove to be their downfall as Frank knocks over the house of cards.
Claire, played by Robin Wright, is Underwood's wife and she is not keen on the news either. "You should be angry," she says, inspiring the breaking of some chinaware and some late night plotting.
Kate Mara plays young and keen reporter Zoe Barnes. Barnes is keen to get as deep into Washington as she can, and the murky waters on the Hill run very deep indeed. She makes a deal with Frank that will see her wading in right up to her neck.
We won't do spoilers, so that's enough to be going on with. There are 13 one-hour episodes of the show. We'll report back when we come out on the other side. µ