I always describe my feelings for Downton Abbey as being similar to my wife’s feelings about Dr. Who: I can get into the show for a little bit, but then I remember how ridiculous the milieu is. My wife says it’s different because Downton Abbey’s milieu really existed, but I’m not sure that makes it better.
If you haven’t seen it, Downton Abbey details the drama of a grand estate in Britain from 1912-1920. The lords & ladies of the house deal with their upper-class dramas, while meanwhile the domestic staff have their own set of dramas. The inciting event is that Lord Grantham’s eldest daughter can’t inherit the estate unless she marries a distant cousin. One major storyline in season 1 involves a footman framing Lord Grantham’s valet for the loss of a snuff-box.
Essentially, the whole society needs a kick in the ass. I found myself rooting for World War I.
Season 2 did deal with WWI, with several of the cast going off to war and the estate serving as a military hospital. Last night’s Season 3 debut moves it back to drawing-room intrigue. Lord Grantham has lost most of his money investing in Canadian railroads, the eldest daughter *finally* marries that cousin, and the evil footman conspires to keep his position as a valet.
Downton Abbey faltered in Season 2, and I think it made a mistake trying to deal with such a large world-historical event. Frankly, the series works better when it focuses on bullshit.
I really can’t help but enjoy the show. Last night also featured Shirley Maclaine as the world’s most on-the-nose American, and also attempted to explain the logic behind the old estates. Lord Grantham really believes he has a duty to stay filthy rich, so he can employ the 15-20 people who work in his estate. I’m kind of fascinated by how if you’re born rich, you can come up with reasons why you deserve it.
And as a “small-r” republican, I believe the whole society is better-served by educating everyone and letting them create middle-class jobs. I mean, I’m not judging you if you want to be a valet, but there really should be some more options. You have to weep when you consider the waste of human talent.
But the sociological stuff takes a backseat to the human drama. It’s ridiculous to worry that you only have a tux to wear to a dinner, when you should be wearing white tie and tails, but it’s deadly serious to the characters. And the characters are human enough that you identify with their concerns, even though they’re completely bullshit.
Plus, look at Lady Mary in this dress! Isn’t this worth centuries of oppression?