Sunday, September 21, 2014
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'House of Cards': My Netflix binge

Kevin Spacey ate my weekend.

'House of Cards': My Netflix binge

Spacey portrays a House majority whip in "House of Cards" what he describes as "sort of the new television series that isn´t on television."
Spacey portrays a House majority whip in "House of Cards" what he describes as "sort of the new television series that isn't on television."

Kevin Spacey ate my weekend.

Along with Robin Wright and Kate Mara, his co-stars in Netflix’s “House of Cards,” whose 13-episode first season I gulped down within 36 hours of its Friday debut.

If my Twitter feed — admittedly heavy on drama junkies and TV fans of all stripes — is any indication, I’m not the only one who engaged in some binge viewing after Netflix’s second original series went online.

And, no, I didn’t watch last year’s “Lilyhammer” nearly this quickly.

That show, which stars  Steven Van Zandt of “Sopranos” and E Street Band fame as a mobster who moves to Norway, turned out to be fun. But not quite such a potboiler that I couldn’t pause for weeks at a time between episodes. (“Lilyhammer” is expected to return with more episodes later this year.)

When I spoke with Spacey last week, I’d already seen  the first two episodes of “House of Cards,” which is loosely based on a BBC trilogy of the same name that starred Ian Richardson and aired in the U.S. on PBS’ “Masterpiece Theater.”

So, like many critics, I did have a bit of a head start.

But it occurred to me while watching Saturday that Netflix subscribers who were mainlining the show were having an experience similar to one TV critics have gotten used to in recent years: watching an entire season of something special in a very short time.

We got all but the season finale of this season’s “Downton Abbey” dropped on us just before Thanksgiving weekend, for instance. And HBO has been known to send entire seasons of shows like “The Wire” and “Luck” out ahead of time.

It’s a great way to watch serialized dramas and it’s made me understand the people who’d rather wait for, say, the DVD of a season of “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men” rather than deal with the week-to-week schedule. It’s also made me uncomfortable with a trend in criticism that rates shows like this on an episodic basis, particularly when the people writing haven’t seen the entire season’s arc.

Some television shows are more like books — we shouldn’t be reviewing them chapter by chapter.

Of course, now that I’ve seen all 13 episodes of “House of Cards,” I’m worried about talking too much about what’s coming to people who may not have gotten started yet, or may be taking time out for their actual lives.

I can say that Spacey wasn’t blowing smoke when he told me this:

“Please do not assume that anything you saw in the original series we are doing. There are certain things we use as a launching pad, and there are certain things we’ve done as an homage to the original, but trust me, we are creating our own, unique thing. It is not a remake. So forget anything you might have seen in the previous BBC series as, ‘Oh, they’re going to do that.’ We’re going off in all kinds of directions.”

Philadelphians may be bemused to see that this “House,” which stars Spacey as a congressional leader, exists not just in a universe where the Democrats still control the House of Representatives but where the closing of the Philadelphia Navy Yard’s still under way.

Fans of the original “House of Cards” — and I’m definitely one of them — may be particularly surprised by the way the season ends, or maybe by the way it doesn’t.

Netflix ordered 26 episodes of the series at the very beginning, so we already know there’ll be more to this story.

In the meantime, some of us are already getting ready to block out some time in May, when Netflix will post 14 new episodes of “Arrested Development."

Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
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Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
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