January 24, 2012
Eye candy and Downton Abbey
When Downton Abbey debuted on Masterpiece Theatre last winter, a lot of people who might not usually get excited about British costume dramas watched it and decided it was actually a great show, both a window into a lost era of privileged landed gentry (or unabashed "love letter to the class system") and a briskly paced soap opera with scheming machinations, intrigue, romance, and occasional spicy scandal of the Edwardian British variety. It was a nice surprise.
It also felt more like a mini-series than a regular TV series with multiple seasons. At the end of the final episode last year, some viewers (including me) were stunned to find the show wasn't over: World War I was beginning, none of the plot lines were wrapped up, and we were now going to have to wait a year for season 2.
It seems like the show's creator and writer, Julian Fellowes, was almost as surprised as the rest of us, because he hasn't come up with much in the way of new conflicts or character developments: we're halfway through season 2, and we're still watching all the same story lines from season 1. Brief scenes in the trenches in France are cool, but they feel tacked on and unnecessary to the central story.
Whole episodes go by where hardly anything progresses. Mary and Matthew still have their largely-repressed affection for each other, O'Brien and Thomas still smoke conspiratorially and hate Mr. Bates for reasons that no longer make sense, Bates and Anna still want to be together but can't, Sybil is still exploring the exciting new frontier of working, and Mr. Carson still can't get enough screen time to deliver his magnificently dry rejoinders. The tension created when Matthew was briefly missing in action was resolved too quickly by an ickily maudlin "surprise" entrance during a soldier singalong. It's getting tedious, I'm a little disappointed.
But if season 2 hasn't been as good, viewers don't seem to care: the world has erupted in adoration for Downton Abbey. Pop culture websites are expressing their love for the show, often with attitudes like, "It's so weird that we're wild about these stuffy rich British people!", an attitude that seems to be shared by every other pop culture site.
As far as I can tell, the only major development in the main characters' lives (apart from the war) is that Edith, the ugly bitchy middle sister, had a thrilling near-fling with a crusty old farmer she aids with her new driving skills. This prompted my favorite post on Downton Abbeyoncé, a name so ingenious I feel like the show was created just to inspire it:
One thing about this season has been really outstanding: the clothes. Every scene that involves the Crawley sisters getting dressed for dinner is total fashion eye candy: gorgeous draping silk and gauzy beaded necklines--the costume budget must be formidable. The designers that dress Mary have really outdone themselves for the past couple of episodes, she looks absolutely incredible in every scene. My straight male viewing partner let out an audible sigh of amazement at a shot of Mary and Sybil talking before dinner and their awesome clothes (see photo above).
You can watch episodes online at the PBS site. Maybe one of these days something will happen plot-wise, other than the Dowager Countess shooting withering glares and grousing hilariously about people with titles less impressive than "Dowager Countess".
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