Downton Abbey Addiction
Downton Abbey addiction has arrived here, if a bit belatedly. I missed the first season since I normally never watch television and hadn’t gotten the word of its pleasures. But with the help of my TV/DVD competent granddaughter I am now up to speed. What a treat! It’s equal to eating mountains of almond joys and riding a sugar high over the rainbow.
How much fun to view the scenery, the houses, the clothes, the jewels, the furnishings, the dinners and formal goings on! The precise diction and elegant manners of the upstairs set remind us what articulate speech sounds like, with its range of subtle maneuver and veiled insult. Of course the plot and characterizations are completely familiar but as in all soap operas, this lack of intellectual challenge is part of the appeal. Familiarity breeds affection and comforting identification. Oh Dame Maggie Smith, we could watch you forever. Only Dame Judi Dench is your equal.
Yet before last Sunday’s episode I met a dissenter dinner guest. A bright high school senior observed that she finds the episodes boring and the characters unengaging. Was this a generational difference? Or perhaps the addictive appeal of the Upstairs Downstairs genre is engendered by reading hundreds of 19th century English novels during your formative years. The characters’ dilemmas became your own, you identified with aristocrats, middle class strivers, yeomen farmers, servants, orphans and the destitute. In a word, we compulsive readers became saturated with class consciousness and the way a class system operates.
America too produced its classic novels depicting its own class distinctions and confrontations. Fiction depicted real life hierarchies operating well into the 20th century. My southern military family inculcated us with a curious class mix of yeoman populism and elite values. You must uphold your family’s good name, behave with honor, display charm and wit, but without pretension. Be a gentleman like our idol, Robert E. Lee. Display noblesse oblige to those “beneath” you while acknowledging that rank has its privileges or RHIP.
This indoctrination in subtle class snobbishness took years to get over. Ivy League academic circles reinforces it. But once your eyes are fully opened you see the hidden power of class: how it perpetuates privilege while inflicting psychic wounds and cultural deprivation. Can it be that a new generation like my young friend has managed to say good bye to all that?
Unfortunately, as the economic plight of the 99% becomes clearer, the problems of class inequality will dominate the country’s agenda. It could be curtains for class- drenched entertainments that require no serious analysis. In the meantime, with nothing at stake, ‘viewers like us’ can succumb to the series’ charm. Or have I got this Downton Abbey thing all wrong?
That said, it is one of the few shows on TV that is both visually beautiful to watch and entertaining - without the murder and mayhem and just plain gruesomeness of the cop shows, the mindlessness and tastelessness of the situation comedies, and the unwatchable varied horrors of most ''reality'' TV. Once the cable subscription ends, it is likely that we won't sign up again. PBS and streaming netflix will do the job.
The second series has demonstrated a real drop in quality. Which I'm all for. A show that was kind of light has taken on the soapiest of qualities. (see especially the episode with the P Gordon fellow-amnesia! murder! the return of a man thought drowned! passion in the carriage house! villainous newspaper men! Canada!)
I would watch a spinoff show called "The Adventures of Thomas and Miss O'Brien."
I would step over my granny's grave for a shot at Lady Sybil, and no Irish pinko with a heart murmer would stop me.
The Grantham Girls are part of the Tribe, as will be further explored in series 3. Will Cousin Matthew succumb to matzah fever? Tune in to find out.
Bravo, PBS! Keep Congress angry and always threatening to pull your plug!
And a show about the Crawleys being part of the Tribe would be good, too. Many in the English aristocracy, nobility, and royalty are descendants of the Exilarchs, including Queen Elizabeth II.
Yes, I misunderstood. Sorry.
Fellowes' touch in Snobs, e.g., is much lighter than Wharton's, but in Downton Abbey, he does get heavy.
A great series. Wonderful hair, makeup, costumes, settings. Lots of allusions to what was going on in Ireland, Russia, etc.
It will be interesting (maybe) to see Shirley McClaine as Martha Levinson. I'm betting on Maggie in that match-up.
Someone like Marian Seldes, perhaps...
Perhaps someday your young friend will revisit Downton Abbey. For the rest of us, it is escapism at its very best.
Pace the encomiums to Maggie Smith, she is miscast by being typecast here: in the sense that her role is written as a pastiche of her prior roles. The role would have been better served (at least more interesting) by, say, Eileen Atkins. Gemma Jones or Phyllida Law (not Judi Dench), to keep this list to names familiar to American viewers.
Upstairs Downstairs was the superior goods. DA is worth seeing (since there is such a wasteland out there), but it is merely dressy junk food.
Edith Wharton was nothing like Lady Mary. See, e.g., ''A Rooting Interest'', by Jonathan Franzen in the current New Yorker.
Oh Dame Maggie Smith, we could watch you forever. Only Dame Judi Dench is your equal.
Disagree. Maggie has no equal.
I didn't say Lady Mary was like Edith Wharton. What I meant is that Fellowe's characterization of Lady Mary was out of the Wharton tradition (in the generic sense of upper crust women's whose attempts to test the corsets of their station ends up producing Drama (sometimes Tragedy)); Lady Mary's predicament is not Austen, Dickens, Trollope, Bovary, James, Tolstoy, et cet - it's just a kin to the Wharton family of predicaments. The Turkish diplomat twist was, however, too exotic and lurid for Wharton, which is kinda shown by the fact of how implausible it was as a dramatic development (Richard Carlisle is more plausible).
The one good thing in the brief revival of Upstairs Downstairs was Eileen Atkins (who co-originated the original series with Jean Marsh but was not cast in it). Eileen Atkins had it all over Maggie Smith in the battle of the dowagers. And that is saying something.