2013's House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey as a ruthless politician on his way to the top, was based upon 1990's House of Cards, starring Ian Richardson as a ruthless politician on his way to the top. They are both brilliant shows (catch a scene from the earlier version above), and an excellent illustration of the differences between American and British politics, drama and humor.

The comparison between the U.S. and U.K. versions of this program shows something about why I feel so profoundly American (rather than British), but also why the Brits excel at just this kind of thing. There are lots of tough breaks in Kevin Spacey's House of Cards, but in the end there is a jauntiness to it. People kill themselves; politicians lie and traduce; no one can be trusted -- and still, somewhere deep it has a kind of American optimism. That's us (and me). USA! USA! It's different in the UK version. Richardson's Francis Urquhart reminds us that his is the nation whose imagination produced Iago, and Uriah Heep, and Kingsley Amis's "Lucky Jim" Dixon. This comedy here is truly cruel -- and, one layer down, even bleaker and more squalid than it seems at first.

Both editions are on Netflix—the UK one is only a four-hour miniseries, too.