Washingtonians: Are you feeling the love? Five D.C.-based shows, including the Netflix political drama, “House of Cards,” received Emmy nominations Thursday. As you wait to see how Washington will fare on Sept. 22, read our TV critic Hank Stuever’s take on each of the shows to see which ones you should be watching (if you aren’t already).
“House of Cards” (Netflix)
Read the review: Power corrupts (plus other non-breaking news)
As it happens, “House of Cards” (based on a British miniseries from eons ago, based on a novel) is mostly concerned with age-old ruminations on the corrosive but exhilarating power of power: “Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts fallin’ apart after 10 years,” Spacey’s character, Rep. Francis “Frank” Underwood (D-Antebellumville), tells us in an on-again off-again honeysuckle accent. “Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”
“Political Animals” (USA)
Read the review: A Hillary-ish madam secretary, with even more bite
Here, [Greg] Berlanti and his cast waste no time reveling in material that is extra-buttered Washington popcorn. Although the world is not yet clamoring for a strictly biographical Hillary Clinton miniseries (since the story is clearly unfinished), the time is definitely ripe for some fictional workout. At its best, “Political Animals” delves deeply into the unknowable: Why would a first lady remain with her husband after his Lewinsky-like dalliances in the Oval Office lead to permanent shame? Where does ambition overtake emotion — and common sense? What does this resiliency look like when no one else is around? At times, “Political Animals” is as satisfying as Curtis Sittenfeld’s 2008 novel, “American Wife,” which imagined the interior life and thoughts of a Laura Bush analogue.
In “Homeland,” Showtime’s astonishingly good and tightly riveted new drama set amid Washington’s classified war on terrorism, Claire Danes stars as Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent racked with guilt over what she considers her personal failings to recognize clues that might have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks. She’s been trying to make up for it ever since, even though her mentor, Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), constantly reminds her that the failure was shared across agencies.
Read the review: Oh mighty Crisis
The deliciously dumb “Scandal” — ABC’s new Thursday-night drama about an intimidating D.C. crisis expert and the lengths she and her crack team of fixers will go to keep a client out of the news — is actually a welcome sight. It is stylish, hammy, sexy, dirty, devilish, laughably bad TV, the guiltiest pleasure since the network unveiled “Revenge.” It eats your brain with a spoon. And for some reason, you don’t care. Once in a while, it’s nice to have your brain eaten with a spoon.
Read the review: A playful pander in Washington’s zoo
“Veep” confirms everyone’s worst suspicions about our sad and frantic little town. The innermost inner-Beltway that is skewered here is a place that takes for granted the art of self-preservation. The knives are always out, even when they’re made of eco-friendly, politically opportunistic cornstarch that will break on a pad of butter. Vice President Selina Meyer, played by the superb Julia Louis-Dreyfus, stirs her coffee with one of these enviro-spoons, and it immediately melts. There you have “Veep’s” central metaphor: Washington as the pinnacle of failure, addicted to a never-ending display of pandering and message manipulation.