The Thick of It > Veep > House of Cards (UK) > House of Cards (US) >>>>> The West Wing >[infinity] The Newsroom.
…a few explanatory notes:
- This isn’t meant to be comprehensive — on the classy end I haven’t seen Borgen and have only seen scattered episodes of Yes, Minister a long time ago, and on the poppier side I’ve never seen Scandal.
- Commenters are right that really only the first series of the British House of Cards holds up well.
- Accept it for what it is, and the American version is pretty entertaining. A lot depends, I guess, on how much you like Spacey in full scenery-chewing mode (I’m a fan.) The excessive power of the House Whip doesn’t bother me so much — 1)the bias towards green laternism in drama is understandable, 2)at least the power doesn’t primarily come from rhetoric, and 3)locating the power in Congress is at least a useful corrective. As drama, though, I agree that at least with respect to Season 1 (just starting #2) that at its worst wasn’t plausible enough for its initial pretensions but didn’t always succeed as premium junk either.
- Despite being essentially a straight comedy, Veep actually presents a more accurate picture of Washington than either HofC or the Sorkin shows. Focusing on the vice president is a brilliant solution to the green lantern bias I mentioned above; political drama normally requires that characters be able to make stuff happen, but of course here the powerlessness of the lead character is a central joke. Like a lot of comedies the first season was uneven, but the second was extremely good.
- Am I underrating The West Wing? Probably. As I’ve said, I’m not even a full-time Sorkin detractor; given an interesting story and a director to push back against his worse tendencies, as in The Social Network and Moneyball, I can find his dialogue very entertaining. But on his own and with banal political points he very much wants to teach you, I just find the thing too insufferable to enjoy its good points. Admittedly, as I said when discussing the dreadful The Newsroom, I’m probably excessively influenced by the 9/11 episode, which arguably had the highest pretension-to-achievement ratio of any middlebrow popular entertainment with Something To Say between Sting’s “Russians” and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The rhetorical speeches of Sorkin’s political characters reach a deadly combination of boring and irritating way too often.