TV shows worth watching this week

Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and Michael Kelly in a scene from Netflix's House of Cards. Photo / Patrick Harbron, Netflix
Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and Michael Kelly in a scene from Netflix's House of Cards. Photo / Patrick Harbron, Netflix

House of Cards

With all four seasons of House of Cards finally available to New Zealand subscribers of Netflix, here's some background to those behind the political drama for newbies to the Emmy-winning show. The third and fourth seasons take the Washington story of Frank Underwood beyond the story in the 1990 British mini-series it was originally based on. Fortunately, there's plenty of Washington experience behind the series. Here's how its political pedigree stacks up.

Kevin Spacey returns as President Underwood. Photo / Supplied
Kevin Spacey returns as President Underwood. Photo / Supplied

Beau Willimon: The House Of Cards showrunner worked for actual politicians before his job writing and creating TV shows. He started out as an intern for US Senator Charles Schumer which led to work on Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign. In the upcoming season, where Underwood will be on the campaign trail, expect some accurate scenes, as Willimon himself worked on two US presidential campaigns: for Bill Bradley in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004.

Jay Carson: Willimon recruited his political adviser and former college friend Jay Carson as the series' political consultant to help him with the tone of the series. Carson has worked with Michael Bloomberg, Howard Dean, and Hillary and Bill Clinton. It isn't Carson's first foray into the world of showbusiness, as he also inspired Ryan Gosling's character, Stephen Meyers, in George Clooney's political film The Ides of March.

Kevin McCarthy: Kevin Spacey spent time with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Majority Whip from California, as part of his research for his role. Spacey took particular interest in watching proceedings at a whip meeting. "Spacey called me the other day and he leaves this message. He goes, 'Congressman? This is Congressman Frank Underwood'," McCarthy told Business Insider.

"We've talked a few times, he hung out with me for a few days."

Michael Dobbs: The US series is based on the British series of the same name, which is actually based on a novel written by Michael Dobbs. Dobbs has some serious British political pedigree, having served as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's Chief of Staff from 1986 to 1987. He was also the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party from 1994 to 1995.

Lyndon B. Johnson: The inspiration for Frank Underwood himself is former President Lyndon B. Johnson - who became president after the death of John F. Kennedy and who spoke with a similar accent. He was also famous for making ruthless decisions.

What: House of Cards seasons 1-4
Where and when: Netflix, now

Capital

Capital is a three-part television adaptation of John Lanchester's acclaimed novel about the very different denizens of Pepys Rd, a street in Clapham, south London, during the 2008 financial crash. It offers a Dickensian view of London and its class system.

Toby Jones's banker, Roger, is preparing to receive his £1 million annual bonus while his monstrous wife, Arabella (Rachael Stirling), is eyeing up how to spend it. A Polish builder (Radoslaw Kaim) is drawing up a quote for Arabella's interior design dreams, while a pensioner (Gemma Jones), who has lived her entire life on Pepys Road, is now contemplating death in the house where she was born.

Toby Jones and Rachael Stirling in Capital. Photo / Supplied
Toby Jones and Rachael Stirling in Capital. Photo / Supplied

On the periphery of all their lives is a Zimbabwean asylum-seeker with a PhD (Wunmi Mosaku), who works in Pepys Rd as a traffic warden, and Ahmed Kamal (Adeel Akhta), who runs the corner shop.

As the residents try to deal with the mysterious postcard threat, the drama explores the divide between rich and poor and the erosion of community values.

Lanchester started working on Capital in 2005; by the time it was published, seven years later, it had become one of the defining novels about the global financial crisis and its human ramifications.

Yet though the book seemingly captured an era, the TV adaptation is set in 2015. House prices are still rocketing, the wealth gap yawns wider than ever and nothing much has changed.

Where: UKTV
When: Mondays 9.30pm
What: Life in post-GFC London

The Characters

If you want dreck, there's plenty of that on Netflix. You only have to look at recent Full House remake, Fuller House, and Adam Sandler's movie hit The Ridiculous 6 to decide the streaming service isn't afraid of generic comedy rubbish.

But to give credit where credit is due, Netflix is also throwing plenty of money at comedians who otherwise wouldn't see the light of day.

One of the Characters, comedian Kate Berlant. Photo / Supplied
One of the Characters, comedian Kate Berlant. Photo / Supplied

The Characters seems to be an extension of Aziz Ansari's well-received series Master of None, and entire days worth of stand-up specials that are available under Netflix's comedy banner.

The premise? "We gave eight comedians their own episode of a series. No rules. No limits," says Netflix.

Those comics include semi-famous faces like Lauren Lapkus from Orange is the New Black, Paul W. Downs from Broad City and John Early from Wet Hot American Summer, as well as more obscure names like Kate Berlant, Dr Brown, Tim Robinson, Natasha Rothwell and Henry Zebrowski.

The results appear to be, well, bonkers. Each was given their own episode in the eight-part show, with the trailer promising awkward restaurant encounters, warped takes on reality shows, and a dodgy police procedural show.

They may not all fire, but if we're getting stuff like this, the occasional Sandler movie doesn't seem so bad after all.

What: Comedy skit show
Where and when: Netflix, from March 11

And there's more ...

If you're into European/Scandinavian dramas, there are a few shows now appearing on our local streaming services worth noting:

Occupied: Apparently this 10-part Norwegian political thriller outraged Russia with its intricate plot which sees Russia initiate a velvet-glove invasion of Norway, at the EU's behest, after Norway decides to cut its fossil fuel production. The show is set in the near future, and based on an original idea from popular Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. (Netflix)

The Heavy Water War: This Norwegian mini-series takes its inspiration from real historical events - how Germany launched a nuclear weapon project during World War II, and the heavy water sabotage Norway undertook to prevent them from completing the project. (Netflix)

Deutschland 83: This German series takes you back to 1983, and centres on Martin Rauch, a 24-year-old native of East Germany sent to the West as an undercover spy for the Stasi. It's highly critically acclaimed, with high praise for its set design and music, as well as the intense spy story which unfolds. (Lightbox)

Vikings: And if you're looking for something a little more rough and raunchy from your Scandi-inspired dramas, season four of Vikings is under way, and though the raiding escapades of viking Ragnar Lothbrok will take you about as far away from the modern corridors of government as possible, there's still plenty of politics involved. (Lightbox)

- Additional reporting: Telegraph, AAP

- TimeOut

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