- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 5, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) - I binged.

There was much anticipation for “House of Cards,” a new original series from Netflix starring Kevin Spacey that arrived in one big helping _ all 13 episodes of its first season _ on the subscription streaming service last Friday for viewers to enjoy, at their leisure, in the weeks, months or even years to come.

Unless, that is, the viewer just couldn’t stop. Which was me. I proved incapable of saving some for later, devouring all 13 hour-long episodes over the weekend. Then I licked the bowl.

Now I’m gorged, and I’m left hanging for who-knows-how-long, deprived of answers to the questions with which the season jarringly concludes.

But more to the point: I love the series. It hooked me. (Courting bedsores, I took root on the couch last Friday night and watched the first seven episodes in a row.)

“House of Cards” is a loose but respectful adaptation of the 1990s British political thriller of the same name, a TV masterpiece starring Ian Richardson as a conniving, manipulating Parliamentarian who rises to the level of prime minister before meeting his fate in the span of just 12 hours that aired over several years as a trilogy.

The new “House of Cards” is set in Washington, D.C., in the current day. It finds Spacey as U.S. Congressman Francis Underwood, a shrewd country boy from South Carolina who, early on, describes himself as “just a lowly House majority whip (whose) job is to clear the pipes and keep the sludge moving.”

His is a somewhat different self-appraisal than that of Richardson’s Francis Urquhart, the Conservative Chief Whip in the House of Commons, an avuncular aristocrat who wields a silver tongue, a twinkle in the eye and a bloodthirsty streak. With equally false modesty but far more polish, he describes himself as “merely a functionary. I keep the troops in line. I put a bit of stick about.”

Like the original, the new “Cards” has its particular Francis soon joining forces with a young, hungry and attractive journalist (Kate Mara) in a partnership of subterfuge and mutual convenience that quickly gets personal.

And he, too, has a strong and supportive helpmate, his wife Claire (played by Robin Wright) whom he loves “more than a shark loves blood.”

Once or twice, Underwood echoes Francis Urquhart’s coy non-quite-confirmation, “You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.” Then, thankfully, he lays it to rest.

While the original “House of Cards” is irresistible (and readily available right there on Netflix), this “Cards” is an original too. In contrast to the starchy, Thatcher-era government its forebear makes sport of, this “Cards” is waist-deep in today’s Beltway melt-down, where Congress is “choked by pettiness and lassitude,” as Underwood notes in one of his asides to the viewer.

Underwood (who, in contrast to the right-wing Urquhart, is some semblance of a liberal Democrat) has his eye on a loftier perch than the House, and there seems no limit to the cunning he can muster toward that goal. Confident but ever-mindful that things can always go awry, he relies on no grand plan but, instead, a thicket of potential counter strikes. His is a meticulously orchestrated power grab.

The result is a dark, hard-edged thriller whose soundtrack _ far from the proud brassiness of the British “Cards” _ is a thrumming, cautionary bass line.

The intense style of this “House of Cards” reflects the pair who developed it: Beau Willimon, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of another political drama, “The Ides of March,” and David Fincher, Oscar-nominated for directing “The Social Network,” a thriller in its own geeky right.

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