on the inhalation of television

Currently, I am inhaling House of Cards on Netflix. I am loving it. It is evil West Wing, Kevin Spacey snarking it up like the darkest timeline Josh Lyman. The Once-Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) as a talented, ambitious woman who can more than keep up with her husband, in the smarts and the evils. I’m five episodes in, and currently the only decent human beings I can spot are Claire Underwood’s new whizz hire, providing clean water in South Sudan, and Christina, the young congressman’s now-ex. It’s entirely possible they’ll both go disasterously off the rails in about 35 seconds.

I signed up to Netflix especially to watch this (and will probably hang around until Arrested Development). But leaving aside the question of whether or not Alyssa Rosenberg is right to wonder about just how crazy their financial strategy is, there is something about this process of drowning in one new show for a week straight that leaves me nostalgic for scheduled TV.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the process of full imerson in a show – being able to fling patience to the winds and just go for it. But. There is also something special about waiting week to week for a new episode. The tension, the anticipation, the frustration. There’s a certain community in the live-tweeting and blogging that now accompanies a hoarde of culture vultures diving into a whole series in one go as it’s released (I just have to keep up, damnit), but not as much and not as sustaining as that which grows up around a show that has that magic of being really good and being really of it’s time (Buffy, early West Wing, the horror that is Lost). Think of the Whedonverse…

The urgency of watching this week is making me think of the last show I really watched with urgency: Battlestar Galactica. Once I was in with a two season deep dive, I spent three years waiting week to week, season to seaon for new BSG. Speculating, reflecting, counting cylons in my head, wanting Starbuck to be Daniel’s daughter, etc etc. But as much as I miss there being new BSG, I miss the process of watching new BSG. By the final season, in my little world, we all went offline on Friday night until we could see the new episode on Saturday. The American with the US iTunes account bought the episode and made the pancakes. The Canadian brought the maple syrup. Various others of us were responsible for the coffee, the juice, the bacon. There was breakfast, and then there was high quality science fiction. There was a moment – and it was one that lasted more than a week.

BSG was a part of my life, it tapped into a honed my ideas about science and fiction, about what TV can do, about the future, about humanity. I could (can) tell you which bits are good, which are great, which don’t fly even though I wish they did. I might be loving watching House of Cards – but I have no idea if I actually think it’s any good (by whatever standards). Is it brilliantly bleak, or is it repugnantly bleak but selling us on it with sheer force of confidence – and with speed? Because there is, at the edges, something Dan-Brown like about Netflix’s refusal to give the viewer time to breathe – time to reflect on whether we genuinely enjoy it or are just hooked, whether it’s something we want to watch or just have to watch. Does House of Cards really have something to say about power and politics, about relationships and ambition, or about Washington DC? Or is it just getting by on making smart, amoral people seem appealing because we think we could keep up with them and be better than them?

Personally, I may be hooked, but I think it might be mistaking cynicism for depth on the current state of Washington Politics…

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