House of Cards vs. The Newsroom: Who Ya Got?

House of Cards The Newsroom

DCist’s Matt Cohen and The Week’s Scott Meslow are arguing over which* TV show is dumber: House of Cards or The Newsroom. Judging by the responses to Meslow’s tweet, the general consensus is The Newsroom. As Benjamin Freed put it, “The Newsroom. House of Cards was self-aware in second season and reveled in its own filth. Sorkin is hopelessly sanctimonious.”

Allow me to suggest, however, that the shows are equally silly, just in different ways. Which is to say that cynicism of the sort demonstrated by House of Cards isn’t necessarily superior to the blinkered earnestness of The Newsroom, and vice versa.

Now, granted, I’m writing this as someone who stopped watching The Newsroom in the first season and has watched every moment of House of Cards. So, grain of salt and all that. But The Newsroom‘s hopeless wish fulfillment—look at how these news stories should have been reported!—isn’t necessarily any sillier than House of Cards‘ hopeless darkness—look at how evil Washington really is! They both get things oh-so-wrong about how the world actually works. And both shows imagine themselves to have a seriousness of purpose that simply doesn’t come through in the final product, Emmy awards notwithstanding.

Ironically, the silliest show about politics currently on the air—HBO’s brilliant comedy, Veep—is the best and most realistic portrayal of how the city works, how staffers and their bosses interact, how hacks and flacks love and hate one another. Veep stands in stark contrast to House of Cards and The Newsroom in that it serves to remind those of us who live and work in the Beltway’s cozy confines* that we should probably take ourselves a little less seriously.

Which is dumber: The Newsroom or House of Cards? Well, that’s a classic false choice! And if we’ve learned anything these last few years, it’s to reject false choices.

*I’ve corrected this to take out the “D.C.-based” line, since The Newsroom is set in New York. I’d forgotten about that since I only ever see D.C.-based people talking about it; as Matt says, “it resonates deeper to a D.C. audience, considering it’s all about media and politics and stuff.” Yeah, though, my bad.