Looking for some smart, involving, and almost addictive tv shows. Look no further than the new NETFLIX series HOUSE OF CARDS, created by David Fincher (SEVEN, FIGHT CLUB, THE SOCIAL NETWORK) and starring Kevin Spacey (Oscars for the classic THE USUAL SUSPECTS and AMERICAN BEAUTY) as Frank Underwood, a scheming powerful politician. What's unusual about this series is that one can stream the entire first season and watch any or all of it any time he wishes.
There are strong similarities to THE WEST WING, a beloved paen to liberal goodness, but there are fewer good guys here and many more Machivellian tricks. Frank is the trickmaster. As House Majority Whip he gets things done through intimidation, lying, and making people do bad things and feel good about it. Spacey, who last year starred as Richard the Third in a world tour, is perfect in the role. He and his writers have gone back to the bard and used the dramatic aside as humorous plot device. After Frank stabs a colleague in the back, the turns to us, the tv audience and slyly makes us his confederates in his manuevering. A screen technique that Laurence Olivier perfected in HAMLET and especially in RICHARD THE THIRD, it works even better on television (MODERN FAMILY is a prime example).
Frank is aided and abetted by his sleekly amoral wife, played to perfection by Robin Wright. Yes, Buttercup from THE PRINCESS BRIDE...still gorgeous but definitely not innocent. She and the rest of the supporting cast give depth to this drama, but the star is Kevin Spacey, who can jump from Southern charm at the pulpit to vengeful skulduggery and then turn to the audience and wink.
Two other shows that entertain and challenge the intellect as well. In its second season PERSON OF INTEREST is a clever mystery that exploits modern technology and the espionage genre. A brilliant scientist (a perfectly cast Michael Emerson from LOST) has created a computer that can spot someone in peril in New York City. He enlists a former CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) with nothing to lose and plenty of muscle to protect the the designated victim. The two make a terrific odd couple, one brainy and eccentric and the other brawny and filled with dark secrets.
ELEMENTARY is anything but. Yet another take on the Sherlock Holmes legend, this procedural has Sherlock in New York assisting the police with his razor-sharp logic, but also in rehab for his drug habit. The big twist here is that Dr. Watson is a woman, played by Lucy Liu, who is at first Sherlock's care-taker but gradually his assistant. She's not the bumbling sidekick of Doyle's original stories. English actor Johnny Lee Miller makes an antic but compelling Holmes and Liu is a smart and patient foil.
All three of these series are intelligent and fast-paced entertainment, a rarity in programs today.