U.S. Rep. Frank Underwood trades insider information for sex with a Washington reporter/blogger half his age.
Underwood is a manipulative back-room wheeler-dealer who doesn’t hesitate to use blackmail to get his way. He also is powerful, and doesn’t hesitate to use that power to bring his political enemies – and occasionally his friends – to their knees. When he needs to unwind, he indulges a fetish of lining up several pairs of shoes and shining them.
Sound like anyone you know? John Spratt? Mick Mulvaney?
The only possible connection is that Underwood, the fictional congressman at the center of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” is supposed to represent the 5th District of South Carolina, the district that includes York, Chester and Lancaster counties. In the series, Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey with a passable generic Southern accent, was born in Gaffney, the Cherokee County city that also is in the 5th District.
In fact, the third installment of the series is set in Gaffney (actually Havre de Grace, Md., as a stand-in). And Gaffney’s Peachoid, the water tower painted to resemble a peach ... or something, plays a central role in the storyline.
The daughter of a city councilman is killed while texting and driving when her car veers off the road and slams into the Peachoid. The councilman seeks to blame Underwood because he was a big supporter of building the Peachoid.
It’s absurd (she was texting and driving!) but oddly compelling to watch. The Peachoid definitely deserved its 15 minutes of fame.
“House of Cards” is modeled after a popular British series of the same name in which the central character is a member of Parliament named Frank Urquhart. I haven’t seen the British version so I don’t know if Urquhart is as venal as Underwood.
Underwood, a graduate of The Sentinel (now, that does sound familiar), is House majority whip. When he is passed over for the post of secretary of state, he decides to go after the president.
That sets in motion a tale of spite and revenge as Underwood employs all his unscrupulous skills to ruin his rivals and consolidate his power (often turning and speaking directly to the audience to explain exactly what he’s up to). His wife, Claire, more closely resembles Lady Macbeth, a devoted partner in crime, than the dutiful smiling politicians’ wives we often see on the campaign trail.
By the way, she is having an affair with a professional photographer.
All this is familiar Hollywood fare purporting to give us a glimpse of the underbelly of Washington with all its hidden machinations and secret deal-making. And, as usual, it’s probably more reflective of what goes on in Hollywood than in Washington.
This becomes even more evident because the congressman is supposed to be from the 5th District, terrain we’re familiar with. Congress no doubt has its share of illicit sex and dirty dealing but it isn’t the Sodom and Gomorrah depicted in “House of Cards.”
Furthermore, Underwood is a Democrat and House majority whip, suggesting that the House is controlled by Democrats. Talk about lack of authenticity!
Underwood couldn’t win an election in South Carolina. The only place he could prosper politically is in the Hollywood fever-dream version of the small-town South.
“House of Cards” could be renamed “J.R. Goes to Washington.” It’s a melodramatic mess.
But it’s also an entertaining diversion. Spacey is always fun to watch, and Wright makes a good match.
And there are some excellent shots of the Peachoid.
James Werrell, Herald opinion page editor, can be reached at 329-4081 or, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.