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Antihero Or Villain? In 'House Of Cards,' It's Hard To Tell

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Antihero Or Villain? In 'House Of Cards,' It's Hard To Tell

Antihero Or Villain? In 'House Of Cards,' It's Hard To Tell

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/276444024/277040368" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today, Netflix released the full second season of its hit series "House of Cards." Oscar winner Kevin Spacey is back playing a murderous congressman who is climbing Washington's power structure. With the show, Netflix is reinventing TV online.

NPR television critic Eric Deggans says "House of Cards" is also redefining just how nasty an antihero can be.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: No TV character blends silky charm with mesmerizing menace like Congressman Frank Underwood, a Democrat from South Carolina. He can even make a promise to help a colleague sound like a veiled threat.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEB TV SHOW, "HOUSE OF CARDS")

SIEGEL: Last year, when we first met Underwood, he was killing a dog that had just been hit by a car.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEB TV SHOW, "HOUSE OF CARDS")

DEGGANS: Ruthless, chilling, and casual. Later, he turned that casual ruthlessness on a former ally - well, he was more like a patsy - who was going to reveal how Underwood broke the law. The patsy was an alcoholic, but Frank Underwood sweet-talked him into drinking while they sat in a parked car.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEB TV SHOW, "HOUSE OF CARDS")

DEGGANS: Underwood lulled him to sleep.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEB TV SHOW, "HOUSE OF CARDS")

DEGGANS: Then Underwood started the car, closed the garage door, and walked away. That murder transformed Underwood from an antihero into a straight-up villain. TV has fixated on antiheroes for years. But the most popular ones have something that explains their bad behavior. "Breaking Bad's" meth-making high school teacher had cancer. On "The Sopranos," mob boss Tony Soprano felt like he had to justify his life of crime to his daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SOPRANOS")

DEGGANS: In "House of Cards'" first episode of the second season, Francis Underwood does something so awful, you'll wonder why you rooted for him in the first place. The show this season seems to dare us to stay invested in a lot of awful people because they're the only ones who matter. They scramble for money and power in a Washington that's strangely more functional than the real-life version. They actually pass education bills and vote on changing Social Security.

Like Shakespeare's "Richard III," "House of Cards" entices us with its lead character's bad deeds, then refuses to tell us how we should feel once we've seen them. But the scariest revelation of all is that we're so excited by this villain in the first place.

SIEGEL: Eric Deggans is NPR's TV critic. This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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