As real-life politics generates high drama, the political shows that flourished in the Obama years–Veep, Scandal–suddenly seem less urgent. No show feels more diminished than Netflix’s House of Cards, now in its fifth season.
Cards is still what it has always been: a melodrama about power-thirsty creeps. But the thrill has waned, its characters’ machinations blunted by having actually attained power. President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) continues to run roughshod over the dopes in his way, but this season’s focus on manipulating the election to guarantee him a new term seems small compared with what came before. Underwood isn’t Nixonian or Clintonian (pick your villain); he’s a flat character for whom recognition is its own reward. This may make the show a surprisingly good fit for our times. But onscreen as in life, the desire for fame alone is insufficient motivation to compel viewers to stay tuned.
House of Cards streams on Netflix beginning May 30
This appears in the June 05, 2017 issue of TIME.
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