House of Cards: Reviews for the Complete 1st Season

  • Publish Date: February 20, 2013
  • Comments: ↓ 15 user comments

House of Cards, Episodes 101-113
Original airdate: February 1, 2013 on Netflix

Spoiler warning: This page may contain descriptions of events in one or more of the season's episodes, including the finale.

A loose remake of a 1990 BBC miniseries (itself an adaptation of a novel by Michael Dobbs), House of Cards has been making waves not only for the talent involved (director David Fincher, writer Beau Willimon, star Kevin Spacey) and its estimated $100 million production budget, but also for its potentially ground-breaking rollout strategy: all 13 episodes of the first season were released online—simultaneously—to Netflix streaming subscribers at the beginning of the month. (A second season will follow next year.)

Reviews of the series, however, were based only on the first two episodes, which were made available to critics in advance. But with TV writers furiously binge-watching over the ensuing days, the time has come to get their opinions of the full season from beginning to end. As a group, critics seem to concur with the headline of Alan Sepinwall's review: House of Cards is "good but not great."

Standing in the way of greatness, according to these reviewers, are some poorly developed characters (especially the female ones), a few unbelievable plot twists too many, and the framing device (borrowed from the UK series) of having Spacey's character break the fourth wall and address the audience. They also find the series a bit too safe and conventional despite its unconventional release strategy. On the other hand, the cast (especially Corey Stoll) and the overall look of the show are drawing a lot of praise, while many critics also find that the series gets better as it progresses, to the point where they are eagerly awaiting the next season.

Below is a sampling of reviews for the entire first season. As we do with our periodic episode reviews, we have expanded our field of publications beyond our usual roster. We have grouped the reviews loosely into four categories (based on how much critics liked the series), and if any publications provided an exact score or grade, it is listed as well (converted to our 0-100 scale when necessary).

Great Extremely positive reviews

90 "The production is as sleek and well executed as any you would expect from this caliber of talent, and a match for most high-end cable programs."

— Roth Cornet / IGN

100 "Whatever its minor imperfections, House of Cards stands as a towering achievement."

— Ed Bark / Uncle Barky

Positive Positive reviews

67 "The best thing about House Of Cards is that it takes its time. The worst thing about House Of Cards is that it has no idea what to do with that advantage. ... I mostly enjoyed House Of Cards, but at all times, I felt as if the show was afraid to take chances, afraid to stray from its carefully laid-out path and its deeply cynical view of the world of Washington, D.C., both its political and journalistic spheres. ... The acting and directing was so good that I never found myself actively turning against the series. But I also don't know that I would have kept watching had it aired on a weekly basis (or had I not been getting paid to watch it)."

— Todd VanDerWerff / A.V. Club

"Like all television programs, there are some episodes that don't carry the same weight as others, but even the lesser chapters provide a lot to chew on and place us deeper into the well of Underwood's descent to the top."

— Scott Beggs / Film School Rejects

"If this was airing on Showtime or HBO, it would be one of the better dramas on television, but not one of the absolute best. ... As a drama — rather than a standard-bearer for a non-traditional distributor — it doesn't reinvent the form. It's a pretty good approximation of that form, but the flash of the Netflix model masks the ultimate lack of substance."

— Alan Sepinwall / HitFix

"As a model of TV production, it's an exciting experiment ... As a television show, however, 'House of Cards' is not so revolutionary. This isn't to say it's bad, or not worth watching, or unmemorable."

— Emily Nussbaum / The New Yorker

"The plotting can be far-fetched or contrived ... [but] quibbles and problems aside, 'House of Cards' has us absolutely hooked and we cannot wait for Season 2."

— Oliver Lyttelton / The Playlist

"The writing is, for the most part, sharp. But it does slip all too easily into the ham-fisted ... The acting is good, but not excellent. These aren't adroitly fleshed-out portrayals for the simple reason that the characters are little more than the sum of their motives."

— Jess Cotton / The Quietus

"Snarling and nasty ... Anyone willing to give 'House of Cards' a chance will find it rewarding even if you feel you need to scrub yourself clean after you're done watching."

— Brad Brevet / Rope of Silicon

"By the end, I thought that House of Cards had become the thriller it promised to be–just in time to end and leave me wanting more. ... It was a very good, absorbing, mature, well-executed drama, but hardly innovative in story, format or characters. I'm looking forward to season 2. But I'm not sure there are any lines I'll quote, or scenes that will pop unbidden to mind, between now and then."

— James Poniewozik / Time

"The series as a whole is completely absorbing, offering a multitude of pleasures. ... The true surprises come ... not in the main narrative, but in the bracing wit and elegance of the dialogue (snappy comebacks, witty conversation, clever double entendres, heated arguments) and in the margins of the story, filled with characterization and atmosphere."

— Peter Martin / Twitch

"It's good but not great, intriguing but not revolutionary, unsatisfying in big ways but very satisfying in small ones. I'm glad I watched the whole thing in one chunk, but I'm not sure I'd approach the already-in-production season two in the same way."

— Matt Zoller Seitz / Vulture

Mixed Mixed/neutral reviews

"The first three episodes made a neutral impact: too much politicking of a sort we've seen an inordinate amount of on TV – and usually done with more bite. ... A middle section of six episodes gradually took hold, but only the final four instalments really made me want to keep watching, thanks chiefly to Corey Stoll's portrayal of self-destruction, a real tragedy, followed by growing tension in the plotting. ... If I hadn't been obliged to watch the whole thing, I think I might have left after three episodes."

— Martin Hoyle / Financial Times

40 "The show projects an air of dark cynicism, but there's no substance to the drama, only faux-edgy posturing. After six episodes, I couldn't find any real reason to continue watching, apart from keeping pace with more dedicated viewers who had already beaten me to the finish."

— Josh Bell / Las Vegas Weekly

Poor Negative reviews


What do you think?

Have you finished watching season 1 of House of Cards (or have you watched some episodes and decided not to proceed)? Do you agree with the critics above? Let us know what you think of the show in the comments section below.

Comments (15)

  • alejandro970  

    Kevin Spacey bright as in Seven, The usual suspects and American Beauty, in the role of a cynical, machiavellian antihero in an enviroment without rules where in love, war and politics everything goes.

  • adpirtle  

    It's pure escapism, a delightfully cynical soap opera. So many reviewers wanted to know what the show was 'about,' what kind of 'message' it was trying to convey, as if this were the online version of 'The West Wing.' Get over yourselves and just enjoy.

  • IvanK  

    Odd: at least in the first half-season, Congressman Underwood never picks up a phone to ask anyone for money for his own campaign. Why would a story about a powerful Congressman leave out the single most frequent complaint most of them have about the perpetual election cycle? A: Because doing so might expose the fact that what we are distracting ourselves with is a work of the imagination in which at least some of our elected officials exercise actual power rather than serving as marionettes whose strings are pulled by The One Percent. So keep watching, folks. Pay no attention to the men and women behind the curtain. Buy. Obey.

  • torchenterprise  

    This series House of Cards is totally unrealistic in every phase. NO Vice-President has this much power to unseat a President. Vice-President's really are mostly figureheads and have no real power. The acting is good but the script is NOT. If we have politicians like Frank Underwood in the U.S. government we are in deep deep trouble. It is intriguing but it needs to be more real and not just a bunch of titilating mumbo jumbo tricks.

  • Beechlaw  

    So many comments here commend the acting. My own impression was of two dimensional cardboard characters simply reciting lines. I watched the whole first series rather in the state of mind of one who hates not to finish a book once started. I did not feel inclined to watch the second series. I am told it improves and so will give it a go. I had never seen the original with Ian Richardson. It is also available on Netflix. The difference is chalk and cheese. Richardson's was a powerful and mesmerising character; the series completely gripping. I have been eking it out as I do not want it to finish. But now just one episode to go.

  • val8999  

    It's a well-oiled machine, driven by the cunning, plotting minds of both Kevin Spacey/Frank Underwood and his TV Bride/Claire. I was surprised, as well, and didn't see certain twists coming, which is rare for a jaded viewer such as myself. Spacey also has one of those fascinating faces that present subtle flashes of readable messages through his eyes and expressions without having to speak dialogue. Robin Wright has an eagle-eyed elegance which is fascinating to watch, she's very noble but don't cross her, Kevin Spacey's Underwood character has met his match. He's a superb actor, with a superb cast all around. Best of the year by far! Thank you to the producers.

  • Squiddy  

    Johan Liedgren sums it up with his review. 'A well written Machiavellian political drama is always welcome. West Wing meets Django. Noteworthy are the raw and potent female characters chiefly Robin Wright Princess Bride, all grown up. A rare marital intimacy with Kevin Spacey anchored in shared ruthless ambition, she is more the childless tiger mom, than nurturing wife.'

  • LasVegasLinda  

    I believe Kevin Spacey is one of the greatest actors of my lifetime. He is so versatile and completely immerses himself in whatever character he is playing. I watched the entire series over a 3 day period and found myself up until 3 in the morning and dying the next day due to my addiction to this quality series. I am anxiously awaiting the next season. Please, please, do not cancel. While a few of the female, younger cast members are not that believable, I will continue to watch feverishly since Kevin Spacey IS House of Cards and holds my complete interest throughout the show. Thank you Kevin Spacey for your dedication to quality acting and for not holding out for those big buck blockbusters. You are appreciated!

  • brianbrat  

    There is a review from crazynuck72 that trashes the series a little because he or she doesn't realize its only a movie. The movie is great entertainement (not a manifesto).

  • brianbrat  

    This is best show in years. Even though its present day Washington and Frank Underwood (Spacey) is a democrat with a democrat president the series isn't political. Its about power. Everybody in the movie except for one person (Spacey's wifes secretary), is evil.

    This series is slick, the acting is first class and its fast moving. If you see the first one and like it you will like the rest, If you see the first one and don't like, then you probably won't like it. Just watch Al Gore on a Al Jezerra special if that's the case.

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