'Scandal' Versus 'House of Cards'

ABC; Netflix
ABC; Netflix

When Scandal airs weekly on ABC, it's a Twitter explosion. Politics and outlandish drama run together deliciously on the show. On the other hand, New Yorker writer Emily Nussbaum writes, Netflix's House of Cards, also about politics, is much darker — and suffers because of it.

Fincher's Washington is full of eerie imagery, such as a homeless man folding a twenty-dollar bill into an origami swan, and it's magnificently lit (although I don't understand why a sought-after journalist like Zoe lives in a flophouse full of spiders). But eventually the show's theatrical panache, along with Spacey's Shakespearean asides to the camera, starts to feel as gimmicky as a fashion-magazine shoot, with melancholic shots of Claire jogging in a graveyard. The show may be made of elegant material, but it's not built to last—it's a meditation on amorality that tells us mostly what we already know.

And, honestly, the more I watched, the more my mind kept wandering to Shonda Rhimes's "Scandal"—an ABC series that's soapy rather than noirish but much more fun, and that, in its lunatic way, may have more to say about Washington ambition. "Scandal," which is inspired by a real-life political "fixer," started slowly, as a legal procedural blended with a Rielle Hunter-flavored Presidential affair. It took a season to shed its early conception of Kerry Washington's P.R. bigwig Olivia Pope as a "white hat." But, once it did—whoa, Nelly. Popping with colorful villains, vote-rigging conspiracies, waterboarding, assassinations, montages set to R. & B. songs, and the best gay couple on television (the President's chief of staff, Cyrus, and his husband, James, an investigative reporter), the series has become a giddy, paranoid fever dream, like "24" crossed with "The West Wing," lit up in neon pink. Last week's episode was such a #GameChanger—that's the hashtag that the show's creator used to advertise the episode—that Twitter exploded with exclamation points.

Because "Scandal" is so playful, and is unafraid to be ridiculous, it has access to emotional colors that rarely show up in Fincher's universe, whose aesthetics insist that we take it seriously. Like Underwood, Jeff Perry's Cyrus is a Machiavelli who cozies up to the President, but he's got rage, wit, and a capacity for passion, not just oleaginous asides. 


Read Emily Nussbaum's entire piece at the New Yorker.

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