How many times have you heard speakers say, “I’m not an expert, but…” Then they proceed to discuss the subject they have already admitted they’re unqualified to talk about. Just say what you are going to say. It will stand on its merits — or not.
That said, I’m not a professional critic of movies, theater, books or television — which only means I am not professionally engaged in the high art of criticism, such as Irving Howe or Dwight MacDonald in the past or Leon Wieseltier today.
Which brings me to the five television shows I’ve recently watched on Netflix — “House of Cards,” “The Boss,” “Damages,” “The Fall” and “Crossing Lines.”
Before Netflix, I had never seen any of the five, but I knew about “House of Cards” and “The Boss,” as any political person would. My television watching was fairly disciplined — “Prime Minister’s Questions,” David Letterman, Jon Stewart, “60 Minutes,” “PBS NewsHour,” “Frontline,” “Chicago P.D.” and “Blue Bloods.”
But with Netflix, I’ve abandoned any semblance of discipline. Shows that I had never seen, I was suddenly watching and being drawn in – way in.
So, in rapid succession I went through the first two seasons of “House of Cards” (26 episodes), “The Boss” (18 episodes), “The Fall” (11 episodes), “Damages” (26 episodes) and, most recently, “Crossing Lines” (13 episodes).
That totals 3,887 minutes of TV viewing over 25 days, or 2 hours and 36 minutes a day (the equivalent of watching 17 major league baseball games).
Here’s a brief critical look at the five, beginning with “House of Cards,” the show that began my binge watching:
As I watched the principal and supporting players, the one-and-done characters, a single question came forcefully to mind: “Was there any redeeming individual in the entire 26 episodes?”
Of all the players in “House of Cards” — president, vice president, members of Congress, majority leader, majority whip, members of the media, security details, business leaders, lobbyists — did even one person possess elementary ethical or moral standards? Or were they all corrupt to the core of their rotten souls?
Perhaps Freddy (Reg E. Cathey), the BBQ restaurant owner, where Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) went for his hideaway lunches as majority whip, vice president and president, seemed to posses some sense of right and wrong (but, of course, Freddy had a checkered past, including prison time).
But Underwood and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), were perfectly suited for each other, as both were equally amoral. Their one objective: How do I get more for me?
As majority leader of the House of Representatives, Underwood kills a fellow congressman, and pushes a young reporter with whom he was having an affair to her death on the tracks of Washington’s Metro. Stunningly, he gets away with his murders. And he becomes vice president and president of the United States without being elected. Clever fellow? Yes! And Claire is almost as evil as her husband.
“The Boss,” which stars Kelsey Grammer, is about a fictional Chicago mayor named Tom Kane, who, in his own way, is as diabolical as Frank Underwood. Kane has been mayor for 20 years. This is hardly a stretch because in real life, Richard Daley was mayor for 21 years and one assumes he was the inspiration for Kane.
It, too, has political scheming and intense rivalries among mayor, city council, and the business community, plus murder, but its offerings of bare butts and boobs shame “House of Cards.”
I’ve been in and around politics and government since 1966. My resume includes service with the governor of California, two U.S. senators, two members of the House of Representatives and two presidential candidates. And nothing I’ve experienced or witnessed in real life comes close to the fiction of “House of Cards” or “The Boss” – nothing!
My concern is some people will think the shows capture political reality. No, not true. They are fictional, not factual. But in today’s sordid political environment, many people will think they represent politics as it is.
“Damages” is about a ruthless and unprincipled New York City lawyer named Patty Hewes, played by Glenn Close. The target of her multibillion-dollar lawsuit is the show’s chief villain, Arthur Frosbisher, played by Ted Danson (“Damages” is not “Cheers”).
As to the degree of reality it bears to real-life lawyers, it’s probably as close as the characters in “House of Cards” and “The Boss” to real-life politicians.
The last two shows, “The Fall” and “Crossing Lines,” are about crime and punishment, but mostly about evil — at a deep and dark level. While the other three are outrageously overdrawn, the hard truth here is that the story lines are credible because there is real evil in our world.
“The Fall,” a BBC production, stars Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson, a supervising detective from Scotland Yard on loan to police in Belfast. Her assignment is to find a serial killer, Paul Spector, ably played by Jamie Dornan.
I thought the story line brilliantly conceived and performed, save for the last scene, which left me disappointed, but “The Fall” completely captured me because Gillian Anderson is fantastic as Stella Gibson.
I knew nothing about “Crossing Lines” before I began watching it, but the presence of Donald Sutherland as one of its lead characters drew me in. Here he heads the International Court of Criminal Inquiry, a police agency that investigates cross-border crimes in the European Union. The scenery alone, winter and fall mostly, is nothing short of spectacular.
I have long understood there are people in the world smarter than I am, with a brilliance I am challenged to comprehend. The writers of “Crossing Lines” have a genius reflected in their stories, completely believable in today’s world (or have you forgotten the massacre at Charlie Hebdo?).
There is evil in our world. We ignore it at our peril.