It may seem that our politicians live in a world all their own, but they actually exist in reality — at least a world more real than the one Frank Underwood rules in “House of Cards.” I haven’t watched Season 3 yet, so don’t worry about spoilers. For all of you “House of Cards” junkies, here are a few shows to fill the void after unceremoniously binge-watching the entire season in one weekend.
For a show with a comparable number of “oh my god!” moments, look to Showtime’s “Homeland.” It follows the story of Nicholas Brody, a soldier held captive by al-Qaeda for years before finally coming home to his family. As he tries to put together what’s happened in his absence, CIA agent Carrie Mathison is determined to prove his allegiance to the terrorist organization. The first two seasons are set in the United States, and Nicholas runs for Congress early on, so it still has that political drama feel. By the time the third season moves to the Middle East, you’re so hooked that you won’t even notice the shift away from politics.
The plots in this show have so many twists and turns that it’s impossible to know what’s coming. Claire Danes, who plays Carrie, makes the show. Her character becomes increasingly complex, the results of an obsessive personality and a high-stress job. Danes never disappoints, taking her character and the plot line to the next level. If you’re looking for a strong female lead character who knows what she wants, this is the show for you.
If “House of Cards” is a little much for your poor, over-worked heart, try “The West Wing,” a political drama from the 1990s. Available on Netflix, “The West Wing” follows senior staffers in the White House as they push for the president’s (Martin Sheen) agenda. The show is a liberal dream come true, complete with idealism and a hint of superiority. The ensemble cast includes some heavy hitters, such as Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Joshua Malina and Dulé Hill. Unlike “House of Cards,” “The West Wing” actually has a sense of humor, and the agendas are pretty self-evident. The show addresses major political issues and national tragedies with gravity and with little heart-stopping suspense.
The downsides to the show? The head writer, Aaron Sorkin, unceremoniously left at the end of Season 4. As a result, the characters stagnate a bit in their development, and the plot flounders for half of Season 5. My other big complaint is the characterization of the female characters. While most have substantial roles and strong opinions, too often, the writers settle into using their sex appeal and gender as a source of humor.
However, if strong, multi-dimensional female leads are a requisite for all your shows, which they should be for everyone, “The Good Wife” and “Scandal” are shows that will also help fill the “House of Cards” void.
“The Good Wife” follows Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), wife of a politician who’s been caught with a hooker. After her husband goes to jail, Alicia becomes an associate attorney at her ex-boyfriend’s (Josh Charles) law firm. The worlds of politics and law intersect as Alicia balances her personal life and the demands of her law career. Surprisingly, the show spends very little time wondering if Alicia can “have it all.” She already does. As the show progresses, it (thankfully) becomes less about Alicia’s relationships with her husband and ex and more about her legal and political careers. The show also stars some other phenomenally strong female characters. Claire Underwood from “House of Cards” isn’t the only ambitious, cutthroat woman on television.
If you haven’t heard of “Scandal,” you’re probably living under a rock. But actually. The show follows the life of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a public relations crisis manager based in Washington, D.C. The first two or three seasons cover political disasters and the on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again relationship between Olivia and President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). And yes, he’s married. So far, the fourth season has been very far away from the show’s D.C. roots (literally and figuratively), but hopefully they’ll find their way home.
The show features some phenomenal performances. Mellie Grant (Bellamy Young) and Cyrus Beene (Jeff Perry) are just two of the politically ferocious characters. This show has a flavor of “House of Cards,” with Mellie as another reinterpretation of a Southern belle turned Lady Macbeth. Cyrus is a vicious chief of staff who’s willing to do anything for political success. As the show has progressed, it’s gotten more intense and suspenseful, making the parallels between “Scandal” and “House of Cards” even more evident.
“House of Cards” is a show unlike any other, with complex, unpredictable plot lines and intriguing characters. However, the Netflix-style release encourages binge watching, making the show a once-a-year phenomenon. So I’ve given you 20+ seasons of solid political dramas to enjoy. Try not to finish them all over spring break.