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When Netflix announced it was developing the first drama of its own with House of Cards, the move was met with both excitement and skepticism for just what this could mean for how television content will be produced for the internet in years to come. But the online streaming behemoth’s first foray into producing original content has clearly been a carefully measured one, and that every pain had been taken to ensure a level of quality previously reserved for premium cable channels like HBO and Showtime. Playing out in look and feel like a big budget John Grisham film, House of Cards not only shows the critics that large scale productions can be distributed via the web, but their quality can match or exceed anything you could find on cable.

Adapted from a novel by Michael Dobbs and a BBC miniseries of the same name, House of Cards stars veteran film actor Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, House Majority Whip for the Democratic Party. After having cleared the path for the election of President Garrett Walker (Michael Gill) in order to procure a seat in Walkers cabinet as Secretary of State. But after Chief of Staff Vasquez (Sakina Jaffrey) informs Underwood that the President needs Underwood to stay in congress and that they would be selecting another nominee, Underwood begins a plot to not only ruin the political career of his replacement, Michael Kern, but to also seize control of the administration from behind the scenes through subtle manipulation of the media, congress, and the president himself.

Spacey characteristically shines as the devious yet affable Underwood, along with stellar performances from Robin Wright as Underwood’s wife and environmental activist Claire, and Kate Mara as Zoe Barnes, a struggling reporter for the Washington Herald. While the choice to have Underwood consistently break the fourth wall and speak to the audience is at first a bit eyebrow raising, Spacey manages to use this somewhat passe device to wonderful effect, and manages to never make it seem hokey. Instead, these little moments provide just enough foreshadowing to give the viewer a tantalizing glimmer of what Underwood has planned, but not so much that it follows any set path of predictability .

Aside from being masterfully crafted, House of Card‘s status as the first realistic attempt at producing network-quality online content could be a template for where the entertainment industry will be headed next. While other sites have clearly produced their own content before, such as Battleground on Hulu or more indie projects like The Guild, House of Cards stands high above the rest in scope, appeal, production value, and ambition. Especially notable is how Netflix has opted to deliver the series on its website, offering all 13 episodes of the first season at once, a sign that not only does the site understand its audience and its predilection to watch seasons in one sitting, but that future ventures will hopefully dispense with the tired method of weekly distribution.

House of Cards is exclusively available on Netflix.

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