“Downton Abbey,” the Words on the Tips of Everyone’s Tongues

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These are just impressions from the first season of Downton Abbey, I have not yet watched the second.

First I have to say nothing bores me more than the stilted language, laborious plotlines (that usually fill up hundreds of pages), and the suitor/forbidden love carousels that make up most every British Victorian era novel.  Having been made to read them to broaden my education (I don’t know why) over many school years and semesters I can safely say there is nothing more I detest.  Now before I hear the rumbling of a collective groan on where you think I’m going with this review I have to say that nothing gives me more pleasure than watching an episode of Downton Abbey.

I know, it doesn’t make much sense.  A bunch of Brits with varying accents prancing about a gigantic estate/mansion, as people fall in and out of love, stand in the way of “true romance”, and try to marry off as many eligible girls as possible does seem a bit dull.  Sure the dichotomy, or lack there of, between the lowborn housing staff (i.e. butlers, cooks, chauffeurs, et al.) and the aristocratic Crawleys gives the show a little more flavor due to not having to focus on just the prim and proper high-class Crawleys.  However, it is still a show about everything I loathe in regards to Victorian literature.

I won’t bore you with delving into each episode, every character or every storyline.  Instead I will just give you a list of why the show is so awesome:

  • Apparently it was perfectly acceptable to marry any sort of cousin, if you were a girl, so that you could continue to use your family’s money and inheritance.  (WHAT?!)
  • Even the most minute actions get blown up to catastrophic proportions.  Imagine Michael Bay making a movie about a servant girl owning a type-writer – with less explosions of course (or not).
  • The three Crawley sisters apparently are all of different heritage (at least by their looks) as Mary is your typical aristocrat Brit, Edith is a jealous Jewess, and Sybil looks as though she’s from the Mediterranean, and is the hottest even though she apparently is supposed to be in her midteens…
  • While on the topic of Edith, no one expects anything out of her and everyone openly hates on her (although Edith isn’t the only hatee) including her parents, who would rather not have her take care of them in old age.
  • As I just said, everyone openly hates on everyone, even if it is done through an analogy of a famous Greek myth.  Have to love petty arguments.
  • Carson, the head butler, pops out of nowhere to hear every bad thing any of the servants ever say (I am waiting for him to pop out of the oven the next time O’Brien cracks wise about Lady Grantham).
  • The fact the term “wealthy dowager” is  now relevant again.
  • Is it just me or does any film/tv show automatically become 33% cooler for the simple reason that is is primarily British (including movies/shows set in ancient times where everyone speaks in British accents)?
  • And did I mention that the tiniest actions get wildly blown up?  Like the time one of the servants has a tiny hole in the seam of his jacket and gets torn a new one (and this hole won’t be in his jacket).

And those are but a few reasons that make this show ridiculously watchable.  Now of course through all that I have actually become invested in the main plotlines and characters (it’s hard not to when you watch the entire first season in one sitting, I mean uhh).  Between all the hating, all the private conversations between the evil butlers (neither are actually butlers), the never accepted resignations, and the trading of stink eyes between two old ladies, the show never ceases to entertain.

I also would be remiss if I failed to mention that Downton Abbey is a very worthwhile program in the aspects of acting and production values, if for nothing else.  Every character seems perfectly cast, especially John Bates (Brendan Coyle) and Sarah O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran).  The costuming is incredible, and seems accurate (although I am no early 20th century clothing scholar).  The sets are intricate and beautiful, and not just the indoor ones.  Downton Abbey is a very well done show and, even though you may not be interested in any of its goings on from a distant glance, it deserves at least a few hours of your time to give it a chance.

Yes I know it is basically a soap opera set in a historic time.  Yes I am aware that, for the most part, it isn’t an earth shattering program.  But by God man, if it isn’t extremely watchable, incredibly well done, and deliciously entertaining.  For those reasons alone it deserves your attention, and I guarantee you will feel smarter after watching 45 minutes of Downton Abbey than any minutes of anything on CBS (the actual ensmartening goes unguaranteed).

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