Barney Frank Really Hated ‘House of Cards’

He's afraid people might think Washington is as gross as portrayed by the Netflix TV series.


Netflix Original series “House of Cards”

Six months after Netflix uploaded its first original TV series “House of Cards” to the web and most of us disappeared for a weekend to consume it in one go, recently retired Congressman Barney Frank has gotten around to watching the series, and he has some thoughts, which he’s published in a Portland Press Herald column.

His chief complaint is that the political drama, in which a spurned Congressman played by Kevin Spacey plots revenge on his President, isn’t very accurate. Indeed:

“House of Cards,” the Netflix series, has no stronger relation to political reality than the ratings given by Standard and Poor’s to packages of subprime mortgages had to economic truth.

Bazing! His critique is somewhat hamstrung by the admission that he “only watched three episodes of this cartoon version of congressional reality.” (There are 13.) That sort of undercuts complaints like “this fictional congressman, very ably portrayed by Kevin Spacey, was perfect…his ability to manipulate everybody else in government…unchallenged” to which all of us who’ve seen the whole series rocked back and forth in our seats, attempted not to blurt out everything we know, and finally grinned smugly as we managed a “Juuuuuust waaaaaait, Barney. Just wait! Things get messy… that’s all we’ll say.”

Frank points out some factual inaccuracies, like the fact that Kevin Spacey’s character meets with the D.C. police commissioner, a non-existent office. Of course, Frank’s concerns aren’t chiefly artistic. Most critics would agree that much art succeeds not because it perfectly captures the mundane reality of life, but because it builds a world rich and internally consistent enough that it feels real to us even as extraordinary events transpire. (See: “Breaking Bad.” Or hell, even “Game of Thrones.”) No Frank’s concerns are more practical:

My problem is that it might mislead people into thinking that this is the way our political system actually works.

Frank has some suggestions for more appropriate Washington television:

A far better portrayal of how government actually works was “The West Wing,” in which the characters made mistakes, were occasionally wrong in their judgments, failed to anticipate important events, and were often troubled by doubts.

Wait, sorry, are we talking about the same “West Wing?” Because God love that great piece of television, but no actual human is as quippy, eloquent, or quick to a Pirates of Penzance allusion as the fast-walking freaks on that show. Frank probably likes “The West Wing” because it casts a rosy, Sorkinesque glow on Washington and Democratic politics. There’s a reason people regularly call for the fictional Jed Bartlet to run for office. His liberal porno of a presidency is not even close to anything the real world has ever seen.

Admittedly, it’s hard for anyone who intimately understands a profession to watch TV shows about the job and not scoff. “The Newsroom” makes journalists want to die of second-hand embarrassment. Real doctors wish everyone was as hot and down for an elevator make-out sesh as the McAttractives of “Gray’s Anatomy.”

But we imagine Frank doesn’t quite mind fictionalized versions of Washington. He just doesn’t like fictionalized versions that portray it unflatteringly. So please, no one tell Barney Frank about “Scandal.” It won’t end well.