Season three of “House of Cards” comes out Friday and like its central character, played by Kevin Spacey, the gripping Netflix political drama is at the top of its game.
“You know what takes real courage? Holding it all together when the stakes are this high,” Spacey’s character Frank Underwood says in one of the trailers that have trickled out ahead of the premiere.
As in previous seasons, Netflix is releasing all 13 episodes in one fell swoop, giving fans a whole weekend to indulge in the show’s Machiavellian twists and turns.
Netflix won’t say how many subscribers watch “House of Cards” from its online streaming service, but it remains one of the most talked-about programs on the American small screen.
Season two ended with Underwood finding himself on the threshold of the White House, after unabashedly climbing the ladder of power through backstabbing manoeuvering and unspeakable crimes.
To judge from the trailers, “President Underwood” will be battling to preserve his legacy, while his wife Claire, played by Robin Wright, aspires to being more than just another First Lady.
The biggest threat they face is contending with each other.
“We’re murderers, Francis,” Claire Underwood says to her husband in one heated exchange. “We’re survivors,” he snaps back at her.
– ‘Really bad people’ –
“Every time you think he’s done the worst thing he’s gonna do, he (Underwood) tops himself — and that is fun to watch,” said Robert Thompson, professor of television and pop culture at the University of Syracuse in upstate New York.
Looking back on US television history, the heroes of drama series have tended to be understanding police officers and efficient doctors, Thompson said.
More recently, however, “the most critically acclaimed programs out there have been about really bad people,” he said.
By way of example, Thompson cited Tony Soprano from the Mafia crime saga “The Sopranos” and Walter White, the teacher turned drug baron in “Breaking Bad.”
“Now we love and embrace these bad guys,” he said.
Fans quick off the mark might have caught a glimpse of season three when 10 episodes popped up online, apparently by error, on February 11, triggering a brief frenzy on social media.
Netflix called it “a technical glitch,” humorously adding on Twitter that “this is Washington. There’s always a leak.”
Based on a BBC drama from the post-Thatcher years, “House of Cards” has so far collected four Emmy awards and two Golden Globes — and earned a Sesame Street parody titled “House of Bricks.”
The show marked Netflix’s debut in original programming, which has grown to include other highly regarded shows such as “Orange is the New Black.”
Going forward, the challenge for “House of Cards” — for which no fourth season has yet been announced — is to avoid the “story fatigue” that dogs similar TV dramas, the Hollywood Reporter trade journal says.
“These kind of higher pedigree program are not the kind of shows that can go on forever,” Thompson said.
“With these intense well executed character-based dramas, we really need to have a beginning, a middle and an end.”