'House of Cards'

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The "Friday the 13th" franchise has nothing on this chilling and altogether nightmarish two-hour documentary reported by award-winning CNBC correspondent extraordinaire David Faber, who painstakingly details the Wall Street-fueled events that made the current global economic collapse an unavoidable calamity.

At once infuriating and wise, "House of Cards" uses a balanced, clear-eyed approach to chronicle a tale of greed and deception unprecedented in American history. It deftly unfurls the chronology as a ticking time bomb replete with bait-and-switch villains and stoked by pure blind denial.

Faber has gathered an impressive collection of those who participated in and provoked the financial nosedive, several of whom clearly are purging their own demons in agreeing to go on camera and answer to their sins. It makes for some unusually raw television that's more bracing than any 10 so-called reality shows.

As Faber spells it out, the crisis seems in hindsight to have been glaringly preordained, casting subprime mortgage lenders as the snake-oil salesmen of the 21st century. They agreed to loans for those with credit scores below 500 and fraudulently filed papers that listed incomes three and four times higher than reality.

The program stacks the building blocks of the turnaround as a feeding frenzy that found lenders like Daniel Sadek pulling in profits of $5 million monthly. What we'd like to see a little bit more of is the kind of contrition that results in, say, an agreement to donate the ill-gotten windfall to needy charities. But of course, that apologetic they aren't.

Nonetheless, there is some seemingly genuine repentance on camera as Faber details the far-reaching effects of the devastation, stretching clear to Narvik, Norway, which staked its future on Wall Street investments that evaporated before its eyes.

Perhaps most intriguing is Faber's interview with former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, who for the first time answers to the charge that he set the table for the collapse with his persistent reductions to the prime rate. His apology is leavened by his assertion that this was a once-in-a-century situation no one could see coming — and that not even he understood some of the shenanigans being carried out in the financial markets. Whatever you say, Al.

The strength of "Cards" is the astute way it illuminates a tale of ignorance and manipulation run shamefully amok. (partialdiff)
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