Fashionably late to the party as always, (in life and in posting) I have finally bitten the proverbial apple and have succumbed to the British white bread pudding (perhaps with a butter sauce with cinnamon or something I don’t know) or custard with berries or just thing that is the PBS phenomenon Downton Abbey. It sounds like a food doesn’t it ” Yes I’d like a a slice or scoop of the Downton Abbey please.”Perhaps they’d serve the Downton Abbey like they would an Eton Mess. ” A big spoonful of each please and thank you.”
I was constantly told about this show since it first came out. I saw spoilers, gifs, and the general worship of Maggie Smith all over tumblr, other blogs and in eavesdropped conversations. I saw the recent Dan Stevens meltdown and subsequent twitter temper tantrums. I basically know the entire plot and what happens to a lot of characters just by exposure and people screaming their feelings about them. And yet, I never tuned in. Not once.
Why did I not tune in? In hindsight did it appear too melodramatic? Too sentimental? Squicky distant cousin coupling? Who needs another show of white people being petty, beautiful and rich and overall antagonizing each other? Were entire TV stations of such shows not enough? Was it the gorgeous architecture and sets, perfect suits, coats and collars stirring terrible, seething, no good Middle Class American jealousy? Waistcoats! China and silver! Artwork I will never ever afford. I couldn’t afford a brick off of that place…Or was it the expanding and collapsing chins and cheeks and overall heft of Matthew Crawley mirroring much too much my own ups and downs in my relationship with the gym, weight training and my only true want: making and eating nothing but desserts.
It is truly ironic as a firm lover of Edwardian, George V and the subsequent Art Deco era aesthetics that I would ever not want to watch the show. I too have a pretty well known and unapologetic aspirations to live as dandyishly Old Money aristocratic as best I can in the future, though not as grand as the Crawleys mind you (who am I kidding let me live there) which is surely another signal from the universe as to “Why are you not watching this? This is what you want”. But perhaps it was because it felt expected that I would want to watch it – and thus ever more reason for my firm refusal to do so.
But alas, I finally caved, and, the verdict overall is: I can definitely see the appeal. Not entirely perfect, but well tasty in a strange just keep eating manner.
It is not entirely flawless however tasty it may appear. It’s prime time soap opera-ness, problematic or slightly spotty writing (era is not a proper excuse for everything) is not to be ignored. It is not quite as sophisticated or as innovative as it probably thinks it is (at least if people tout it as such). A forewarning in the vein of River Song: “spoilers”; the entire scene of Mary, the head housemaid Anna and Mary’s own mother Cora dragging the body of Mary’s first lover Mr. Pamuk (a terribly problematic plot point to begin with) in a very Desperate Housewives style manner back to his assigned room after Mary finds him dead following their (rather uncomfortable to watch as well as dubious) tryst was ridiculous and while a little bit funny, wasn’t quite as funny or as believable especially with the aftermath. Though I suppose they’re so rich and aristocratic no one would dare dust that body for fingerprints.
Additionally some believability can be called into question. The Crawley’s rather extreme kindness overall to their staff and general support of their endeavors should they choose to leave their service seems slightly pandering to the modern audiences just a bit to make the family more sympathetic even though they are beyond wealthy aristocrats with titles and we should hate them entirely because we aren’t them. Not to say it rings completely unauthentic as surely there were very high up noble and aristocratic families of that era that acted as such without a doubt but it certainly comes off at times as much too genial; they really want you to like this family so when bad stuff happens, well you feel bad. Unsympathetic rich families are just that; unsympathetic. Like the Kardashians. While I understand the sentiment, the perpetuating dislike of John Bates due to his crippled leg both amongst the staff and even Cora in the first two episodes felt a bit more appropriate or realistic. Meanwhile overall the expected staunchness and most overt classism is strictly reserved for Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess of Grantham, often played purely for amusement and laughs as the “antiquated” matriarch of the family struggling to accept social and technological progress especially when pitted against Matthew’s more progressive middle class mother Isobel and eventually I figure Shirley Maclaine.
Truly Maggie Smith with the Countess’s wit and almost Oscar Wilde style one liners, zingers and razor sharp repartee, sarcasm as well as her mannerisms and facial expressions particularly when delivering judgments of or upon people truly are some of the best moments of the show so far.
Additionally pleasant surprises for me are the fun affairs of the downstairs staff in particular the mousy scatterbrained kitchen maid Daisy Robinson and the exasperated cook Beryl Patmore. Anna Smith’s head housemaid with her puncturing one liners and her firm but sympathetic and kind presence additionally serves the household very well and I liked seeing her on screen. As of episode four both Sarah O’Brien’s and Thomas Barrow’s perpetually broodiness rub me as a bit too overt in their being figures of discontent ; the black sheep with high aspirations but hate the journey in order to get there. Rob James-Collier’s severe Crispin Glover iciness as Thomas proved to be nearly insufferable in the first two or so episodes; the first time you see him it was so easy to say “oh this must be one of many antagonists”. When presented as unguarded and as having fun when he was dancing with Daisy while they tried out new dance moves, he is obviously charismatic and likeable and a whole lot less creepy to look at. I am hoping he as the series go on has a bit of a personality switch. That’s the only quibble so far. Edith’s middle child syndrome is astounding and casting was brilliant in showing that in her hair color and her dress choices compared to her older and younger sisters. I feel both bad for yet and yet her behavior or comments and actions prove to be rather unlikable at times. Not that Mary in her haughtiness is much better.
Overall: it’s decent and well worth a second serving if you haven’t started it yet. Just don’t over indulge. You may sour your stomach. So for those who haven’t tried it yet, like myself, give it a bit of a taste of Downton Abbey and see what you think.
Staff Writer/The Doctor
p.s. I don’t know the calories per serving of downton abbey; you may have to guess but I assume it’s rather dense and fatty. Watch your waistlines and chins and don’t drive your car very eagerly at very fast speeds. Or have babies. Or do anything. Ever. At all.