“Must every day involve a fight with an American?”
Maggie Smith, as the Dowager Countess of Grantham
I’m a TV baby. I was raised on I Love Lucy, Lost in Space, The Honeymooners, Family Affair, The Waltons, One Day at a Time, Good Times, The Jeffersons, The Carol Burnett Show, Family . . . I could go on and on. Reality TV never struck a chord with me except for Hoarders, Intervention and Confessions: Extreme Animal Hoarding. Disturbing, I know. Then Mad Men and Breaking Bad became my favorites when they appeared on AMC. I’m not as enamored with Mad Men since Don Draper married his new secretary: didn’t seem plausible, and I stopped believing in his character. My latest indulgence is Downton Abbey. Say what? Me, a proud American, hooked on Masterpiece Theatre’s sophisticated soap? Guilty as charged.
We are currently in season two, post-World War I. The season’s January opener attracted 4.2 million U.S. viewers, an 18% rise over the first season. So it’s not just me! It has surpassed both Mad Men by a million viewers (regular number of viewers) and is on par with (gag) the finale of Kourtney and Kim Take New York.
For those who have not seen this gem, it is set in Edwardian England, with a diverse cast of countesses, gentlemen and housekeeping staff. Oscar winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) is one of the show’s creators. Maggie Smith plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham (aka “Violet”) and has some of the best one liners ever on screen. I have seen her in action from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to Lettice and Lovage on Broadway. As always, she doesn’t disappoint.
My husband said that we like Downton because our aristocracy has no class and they do. He said, “Their dying aristocracy still maintained dignity and style.”
Pithy point, if I don’t say so myself.
In the current season, part of the estate is converted into a convalescent home to take in wounded and dying soldiers, including Lord Grantham’s cousin and a footman from their staff. Would any of our “American aristocracy” dream of doing such a thing? Mitt, why not open the doors of the La Jolla beachfront complex you are quadrupling in size to accommodate the homeless and Iraq and Afghanistan war vets who are not being provided the medical attention they need. Where is the sense of duty to one’s fellow man?
Perhaps that is part of the draw. As much as I know the world of Downton is not mine and that the show is a creation, not an historical replication, I am moved by the pride and decency in members of the privileged class as well as those dwelling under the stairs. People helping people not of their station. Were they socialists? I don’t think so. Were they humane? Yes.
Of course, all is not goodness and light. Villains in the guise of Miss O’Brien, lady’s maid to Lady Grantham, Thomas the footman and Vera Bates, Mr. Bates’ (Lord Grantham’s valet) estranged wife make mischief whenever they can. I find it curious that both O’Brien and Thomas are smokers, and do much of their scheming when they go outside for a puff. Not that the writers meant to demonize smokers as they do in our society today. But it’s still funny.
I have read that the show attracts liberals, and that might be so, but I don’t think you have to be a liberal to like Downton Abbey. Tune in this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. (EST) on PBS. You’ll be glad you did.