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Kevin Spacey, Washington's Ultimate Fictional Insider
This week Jim Kelly and Margaret Carlson are corresponding about Washington's moment on the small screen. Kelly is the former editor of Time magazine (and of Carlson) and is now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.
Margaret: I'm a pushover for TV shows that dramatize Washington, as day-to-day Washington can be pretty dull. I even like "Scandal," which lacks the elite pedigree of "House of Cards," which is based on the British series of the same name that aired more than 20 years ago.
The American version is filmed in sepia tones, backed by mood music, with star of stage and screen Kevin Spacey as powerful Representative Francis Underwood, and featuring Robin Wright as his wife Claire, who brings her best Lady Macbeth to the role. Spacey still has blood flowing in his veins. Wright is all ice water. Favorite moment so far: When Frank tries to apologize to Claire, she sees weakness. Being her husband means never saying you're sorry, even to her.
Jim: Gee, that's a nice change for Washington, since usually when people in politics apologize, they don't really mean it. There are a lot of good moments so far in "House of Cards," which is to be expected in a series directed by David Fincher, the man who gave us that other great saga of ambition, greed and backstabbing: "The Social Network."
Remember that great scene of the Winklevoss twins rowing to the strains of Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King"? Perhaps there will be a scene of the mayor of San Antonio and his twin brother the congressman biking to the strains of "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better."
By the way, Washington has never looked better. That may be because so much of the series was filmed in Baltimore. "Homeland," also set mostly in Washington, is filmed in North Carolina. Is this because it is easier to get something accomplished in those places?
Margaret: Maybe we should move Congress itself somewhere else to get something done -- but please, not Baltimore. It's already stealing too much of our movie-making business. HBO's "Veep" is also filmed there. (Favorite line, which Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) speaks whenever she enters her office: "Did the president call?" It never gets old, as it encapsulates perfectly the role of the vice president, even if Joe Biden is having a moment when it doesn't.)
What's sadly missing from "House of Cards" is an exact parallel to former Senator John Kerry, a snake himself for telling a reporter last week that President Barack Obama offered him the job of secretary of state before U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice dropped out. He was at pains to let the world know that Dad likes him best. For that, Kerry broke the first rule of Cabinet secretaries: boasting about a private conversation with the president. He might not get another.
Jim: Margaret, where do you think we are, Baltimore? This is Washington, after all, where saving face is so important it would make a plastic surgeon blush. Remember Biden and his wife being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey just before Obama's first inauguration, when they let slip that the president-elect had offered Biden the option of running as vice president or being secretary of state if he won? Politicians, unlike actors and roles, are always boasting about being offered posts first.
It does make me wonder why being secretary of state is so coveted, however. James Buchanan was the last secretary of state to become president, and his major claim to fame is that the South seceded under his watch.
Margaret: Thank God Lincoln saved the day, or else we would have gridlock in two capital cities today instead of in just one. By the way, if real life worked the way "House of Cards" does, Kerry would have been drummed out of contention by leaks. There would have been a gullible young reporter (a female, of course) to swallow the leaks whole, and a drug-taking congressman to manufacture confirmation-killing positions against the nominee.
Jim: Wait, wait, don't tell me! I am not a binge viewer, so I am still watching. Let's talk again when I finish.
Margaret: I am still watching as well. I'm waiting for the sex that makes me binge-watch "Homeland" and tune in occasionally to "Scandal," in which the president -- the president! -- is having an affair. Oh, for the days of Bill Clinton, when we didn't need fiction to make Washington interesting. I binge-wrote and you binge-edited during that saga. I hope "House of Cards" will live up to that.
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