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January 24, 2012


Eye candy and Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey, Mary and Sybil

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".

categories: TV
posted by amy at 10:29 AM | #

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There was one trench scene which I thought was significant, involving Thomas and his cigarette lighter.

Posted by: essbeekay at January 24, 2012 5:40 PM

True, there was that one scene with the lighter that demonstrated how far Thomas will go to survive (He'll do ANYTHING. Because he's EVIL.) Other than that, the trench scenes seem like expensive attempts to break up the non-action back at the big house.

Things will probably start happening soon in the story, but halfway into this season, I feel like six episodes is like twice as many as we needed.

Posted by: amy at January 24, 2012 11:34 PM

Ok, Ok, I'll buy the first season on DVD. I've been wavering about it, but you're the second person (I actually trust!) in two days who's raved about the show.

This living in the (legal) download wastelands is getting annoying though, I have so many DVDs at this point that I could build a wing onto the g'damn house. (Illegal downloads are possible, of course, but I've never done it).

Oh, and I finally saw Rome, which I loved, but then I bought season 1 of The Tudors, and managed to fall asleep during the first episode. Quite a feat given that there were (I think) three sex scenes in it. How's The Borgias? Have you seen it?

Posted by: Tim at January 24, 2012 11:57 PM

I meant I could build an addition to the house using my DVDs as building material, if that wasn't clear.

Posted by: Tim at January 24, 2012 11:59 PM

Well, season 1, anyway. Keep in mind that the creator is a big-time Conservative. (Seriously. He's in Parliament now.) But it's great high-brow pulpy fun, and Maggie Smith is a hoot.

I don't have HBO and I haven't seen Rome or The Borgias. I remember people saying Rome was good (and extremely naked) so since you like it, I should really check that one out. But I haven't heard anything notable about Borgias. I imagine Jeremy Irons is having a LOT of fun with that role as a gloriously corrupt Pope.

Posted by: amy at January 25, 2012 10:04 PM

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