COLUMN: Trapped In 'House Of Cards': The Isolating Effects Of Netflix Programs
Published: Sunday, February 23, 2014
Updated: Sunday, February 23, 2014 17:02
The second season of Netflix’s House of Cards premiered Friday, Feb. 14, a little more than a week ago. And when I say premiered, I mean Netflix unleashed all 13 episodes of its “prestige” drama into the wild to be devoured by a legion of couch potatoes.
What could have been a quiet or even a wild Friday and Saturday night became a stressful one. Should I click Play Next? It’s 1 a.m. and I could sure use some sleep, but another hour wouldn’t hurt too much. Shoot, here comes the countdown. Fifteen seconds until Netflix plays the next one for me. What’s another hour of mood lighting and Frank Underwood’s deep baritone? Fine, you win, Netflix.
This isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to House of Cards. Netflix releases all of its television in this format. But House of Cards is one of the only shows Netflix produces on its own. It was the first—the flagship with the marque executive producer (David Fincher) and marque star (Kevin Spacey). And it’s a show cut and processed for just this splurging format. Watching House of Cards washes over you in a way that doesn’t particularly feel all that great, but by the time you begin to question how the show makes you feel or if you even like the show the next episode has already started itself.
IfHouse of Cards premiered every week like any other network, cable, or premium show, I think we’d have enough time to think about how the show makes us feel. We’d have to time to surf the message boards or discuss the show on Twitter and Facebook. We’d be able to interact with the greater watching community, because whether we all watch it at its exact air time or not, we’d all be on the same general schedule. And we’d be able to realize that House of Cards isn’t that great of a show after all, that most of its characters are one-dimensional—including Frank Underwood. Those are perhaps loaded statements, because the show was conceived and produced for just this format—a format where one episode bleeds into the next, and the next, until we’re left with a pulpy mess at the end of the night that sure seemed good, just like the bags of chips that lay at your feet. It’s a format that feeds on and even creates loneliness.
That’s tough to swallow. Because there’ve been times when Netflix has been one of the more important things in my life. Who needs friends when you have a Netflix account? Or more so, because Netflix accounts aren’t cheap, who needs more friends after you’ve found one with a Netflix account? Within the industry, Netflix has also proved invaluable. Without Netflix, Breaking Bad wouldn’t have had its thundering conclusion. Without Netflix, Scandal wouldn’t be set to blow up next fall. But here, Netflix was the tool, not the nucleus. It helped get us all caught up. It helped finally connect us, so that after each weekly episode we could come together and commiserate.
ButHouse of Cards isn’t bringing us together. You can’t tweet about the show, or you’ll be stoned for spoiling the plot for lethargic viewers. You can’t talk to your friends about it—assuming you still have some after spending seven consecutive hours watching the show—because they’re either behind or ahead of you.
Television, more than other vehicles of pop culture, is supposed to bring us together. It’s for families—or college friends—to snuggle into a reclining couch and let the small screen whisk us away. But that’s just not how it is anymore. With laptops and DVRs galore, watching television is something we do alone, or when we get lonely to pass the time. Netflix isn’t going to change, and why should it? Why purposefully make life less convenient? So this is our fate, for television to get better and better and for us to draw farther and farther apart. MaybeHer has had it right all along. Maybe if Netflix had Scarlett Johansson talk to us while we watched House of Cards orScandal we’d feel better about ourselves. But maybe if we found other human beings to watch Netflix with, we’d feel even better.
Does it have to be this way? Do we have to waste away alone but delightfully entertained? No, I don’t think so, because while Netflix may be conspiring to coax and trap us in our rooms and basements so it can take over the world, it’s not that hard to escape. All you have to do is close your laptop—or better yet, open it with someone.