House of Cards and Game of Thrones: TV for an age of villainous heroes

Our leaders are venal, manipulative, incestuous and murderous. And we can’t get enough. The two biggest TV events of the year – the premiere of the second series of House of Cards, in February, and the finale of the fourth series of Game of Thrones this week – have appealed to our unquenchable and contemporary thirst to see those in power slime around.

But why do we like them so much? It doesn’t seem to be a simply reflective appeal –the world is full of selfish and powerful people and it is not a new or interesting insight for a person or TV show to have. Instead, in a bewildering and new age, these programmes demonstrate important contemporary paradoxes. We like our heroes villainous; we want behind the scenes manipulation to take centre stage. It’s more honest, and more attractive: in TV, as in life, it’s the slimy people that make things happen.

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True Detective and false genius

Film can’t cope with deduction, but it is in love with deductive geniuses. Increasingly, over the last few years, it has found new ways of isolating those geniuses – developmental or mental health difficulties, implicit or explicit, usually – so that their deductions can be isolated, too. Sherlock in both recent adaptations, Hannibal‘s Will Graham, Homeland‘s Carrie Matheson: their genius is their madness, and vice versa.

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