This week Jim Kelly and Margaret Carlson are corresponding about Washington's moment on the small screen. Kelly is the former editor of Time magazine (and of Carlson) and is now a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.
Margaret: I love House Speaker John Boehner: There, I've said it. My affection was born over the weekend as I watched "House of Cards" straight through to Episode 12. Only one episode left.
Before I get to why I had to watch the Grammy Awards for relief, Jim, let me ask you a question: What's with Francis Underwood and his wife and Claire sharing a cigarette whenever they are alone at night? Is this the classic postcoital smoke, or is this a substitute for coitus? The show is not PG-rated. If they had sex, I assume we would see it. Is it designed to reinforce the idea that theirs is a merger, not a marriage?
Now for the spoiler: As bad as our Congress has become, it's nothing like the one Underwood has to whip into shape. Boehner, I am confident, hasn't murdered any of his disobedient young charges. If he did, it would have to be a mass murder. His caucus is the least cooperative in modern memory.
Jim: I think Francis and Claire also would like Speaker Boehner, but not for the reason you cite. All three of them love to smoke! I can't speculate why Boehner, or President Barack Obama for that matter, is drawn to cigarettes. But I credit "Mad Men" with bringing back smoking as a dramatic flourish in TV drama. And in this case, smoking has been so demonized since the "Mad Men" days of the 1960s that it is shorthand for saying, "These people are evil." So evil, in fact, that they are killing each other with second-hand smoke.
Margaret: Let's get back to the outright murder. True, Underwood's victim, Representative Peter Russo, wasn't a pretty politician. He drank, did coke, left his kids without a babysitter, fancied prostitutes, and did Underwood's bidding to get ahead. But he and his loyal girlfriend were the only two people to root for on this show. He meant well, and was on his way to turning his life around when the plot took an abrupt twist.
Jim: I am not sure you watch enough TV drama, Margaret! As soon as Russo appeared on the scene, I knew he was a goner. He started out as an unsympathetic character, like Big Pussy in "The Sopranos." Then he grew more complicated, and you began to care for him, and then -- wham. Gone. If TV killed off only those we hated, it wouldn't be as emotionally addictive.
Margaret: Well, I was hoping Underwood's chief of staff would stop him. There he was sponsoring Russo in AA and rescuing a prostitute from the street. Then he allowed Russo to get drunk before an important radio interview, thus ending his political career. How sad was that phone call where Russo's daughter tells him how awful school has been since her father's fall from grace. That scene captures an unfortunate element of Washington life: Kids do get blowback. It's amazing Chelsea Clinton leads a normal life.
Jim: Hey, what about that poor kid who played the vice president's son in "Homeland"? True, he ran over a woman. But he ends up getting blown to smithereens in a terrorist bombing. Russo's daughter is lucky she lives to be snubbed another day.
Margaret: I was too depressed (and in love, see above) to watch the final episode, so I turned to the Grammys. In the line of duty, I will finish "House of Cards" this week.
Jim: And we haven't even discussed "The Americans," the FX series whose brilliant premise is that two undercover Soviet KGB agents are trying to make a go of it in Reagan-era Washington. Yes, an FBI agent moves next door, yes a kidnapping goes horribly awry. But here's the real test: They have a 13-year-old daughter who doesn't know what her parents do for a living and loves capitalistic pursuits like going to the mall. Now that's a parenting challenge.
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Margaret Carlson at email@example.com