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Downton Abbey

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA3Pjvog3M0

Did anybody watch Season One? As a big fan of Gosford Park (who also wrote this), I found it to be some of the most enjoyable television I've ever seen.

That cast is perfect, top to bottom. And even though Maggie Smith has played characters like this many times before, she's never been given so much room to develop one. She's a joy to watch here.

Edited by Overstreet

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Did anybody watch Season One? As a big fan of Gosford Park (who also wrote this), I found it to be some of the most enjoyable television I've ever seen.

I put it on hold weeks before summer break started, in hopes that we'd have the discs in hand in time to watch them over the summer. We're still waiting.

And, as with each Labor Day, which marks the end of our self-imposed "no broadcast TV during the summer" periods, we find ourselves wondering if we should just leave the TV off once the new season begins. With the exception of the occasional football game, I don't feel any compulsion to watch broadcast TV each week. That'll change once the new shows debut, and once we return to some old favorites. But those old favorites are well past their prime. We know this. We find ourselves asking each other whether we should bother with those shows again this year.

I digress. To summarize, we're planning to watch Downton Abbey as soon as our copy comes through.

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What a great show. The trailer looks awesome except for that bastardization of a certain U2 song.

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We're about two-thirds of the way through Season One and are enjoying it greatly, although the episode we watched last night -- featuring a scandalous

death of a certain character

was so "soaped up" it was laughable. Literally, we were laughing out load at the outrageousness of the plot, which came out of nowhere and seemed more akin to, I dunno, "Dynasty" or one of those night-time soaps that were big in the 1980s. (Never watched 'em, so maybe my comparison is off-base, but this sort of plotting is what I always THOUGHT those shows trafficked in.)

Had the program not established its superior qualities ahead of that episode, I don't know that we would've continued with it. But we are continuing with it. We're planning to watch another episode tonight and finish up the final disc (of three) before Wednesday. Some of these characters -- not just the performers, who are great, but the characters -- are people I want to get to know. There's a dignity to them that -- well, let's just say that as much as I'm loving "Mad Men," I'm not sure a single character on that show is someone I'd want to know in real life. But "Downton Abbey"? Those are my peeps! Some of them, at least. I feel a kinship. I want to be their friend.

Is that sad? I didn't know I was going to write that until just now, as I typed it. But it's true. Don't mock me! ;)

Also, am I to understand that this aired as part of "Masterpiece Theater"? We may have discussed this earlier here. Wasn't "Sherlock" also part of "Masterpiece Theater" last year? If so, it's no exaggeration to say that "MT" may have been the best thing last year on any television station, cable or over the air.

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It gets better. That episode was, for me, the low point. Unfortunately, that Major Plot Point becomes extremely influential on subsequent events. It was a very big wrong turn in a show that makes more right turns than any television audience has any right to expect.

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I loved this. Loved it. I'm both eager for more and worried about an expected decline in quality. Can the series sustain the level of excellence it achieved in its first season? It wasn't a perfect run, but it was close enough, full of great characters who have a lot going on beneath the surface.

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As long as they don't hire writers who see the characters as being lists of predictable traits, and who exaggerate those traits. Maggie Smith's character, for example, must not become a clever comeback machine, although some of her wicked comebacks have been hilarious.

These are characters with minds and hearts and tendencies - not caricatures. Yet.

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As long as they don't hire writers who see the characters as being lists of predictable traits, and who exaggerate those traits. Maggie Smith's character, for example, must not become a clever comeback machine, although some of her wicked comebacks have been hilarious.

These are characters with minds and hearts and tendencies - not caricatures. Yet.

One of the show's most delightful moments was when she

extended a little grace

toward another character. (Not sure that's spoiler-worthy, but just to be safe...)

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A bit late to the party, but my wife and I just watched the first season of this streaming on Netflix. As others have said, it's astonishingly good. I can't think of another TV show that has such a great assortment of actors for every role. I'm especially loving Elizabeth McGovern, who hasn't really made an impression on me since the 80s. Her character has so many nuances and, er, character.

Regarding the "soap opera" episode... we, too, laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it. But as the season progresses I think that's the point--the depths to which families would stoop during this time period to maintain a sense of "decorum." Plus, that particular plotline plays heavily into the larger themes of women's rights, albeit in an often forced manner. So my negativity toward that episode has softened.

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I am five episodes into the second season (thank you, ExPatShield) and dreading the finish. Unfortunately the melodrama soars to soapier heights than ever

(and yes, the Major Plot Point rears its head several more times)

. Even the brilliant guest stars couldn't save it.

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We enjoyed Season One, but it's definitely a soap opera. Not sure I'm up for even soapier heights this go round.

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My wife has Anglophile tendencies, so I knew she'd enjoy this. We started watching it last night on Netflix. Halfway through episode one she was hooked (marriage points for me!). Halfway through episode two I was hooked. So far I love the characters, the writing, and everything about it.

Edited by Gavin Breeden

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I've certainly enjoyed Season 1 and the first two episodes of Season 2. It's not perfect, and the melodrama sometimes overpowers what is otherwise a surprisingly nuanced group of characters, but it's such a pleasure to watch living, breathing, three-dimensional characters instead of caricatures. Even the villains -- Thomas and O'Brien, in particular -- have elicited pathos and compassion. It's television at its best, or very close to it, I think.

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I just heard that Shirley McLaine has been cast as Cora's mother. I'm a lukewarm fan at best -- mainly watching for Maggie Smith, actually -- but this could be fun! :)

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I just heard that Shirley McLaine has been cast as Cora's mother. I'm a lukewarm fan at best -- mainly watching for Maggie Smith, actually -- but this could be fun! :)

Story:

Shirley MacLaine will join the cast for the British hit's third season when it begins filming next month, it was announced Monday. The 77-year-old actress will play Martha Levinson, the mother of Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern).

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This show is getting easy to make fun of. It's got its overly melodramatic moments. It's got occasionally unbelievable coincidences. It's about stuffy British people. It's got romances that are ridiculously thwarted by glorified senses of honor and noblesse oblige and class structures that seem nonsensical. It's got a tremendous number of cliches that have led me to make fun of my female friends and family for watching any number of countless Jane Austen/Bronte sisters films.

And yet, I find myself liking it in spite of myself/itself.

The strong family unit of Downton Abbey (including the help) has been so well developed that the viewer cares about all of them (even now including the rogues), and looks at outsiders and life-changing historical events as intrusions and obstructions to this family living as you have been led to feel they ought to live. I'm still trying to think more about how powerful of a sense this show gives you that there is a good and traditional way that things ought to be. No, you think, the family shouldn't be dominated by even the benevolent tyranny of the good-intentioned social-engineering Mrs. Crawley. No, the oldest daughter shouldn't be forced to marry that annoying newspaper man. And no, even Thomas seems to be starting to find the much thwarted romance between Bates and Anna a little ridiculous.

I find their hang-ups and class strictures annoying. And yet, Branson's anti-class ideas seem a little naive and arrogant. And the Sir Richard's self-made do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-whatever-you-want view of the world seems abhorrent compared to the respectability of the Crawly family. The characters in the show who don't like the same things about the show that I don't like - well, I don't like them either. But I still like the show and I'm still working on figuring out how to explain why.

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I'm still trying to think more about how powerful of a sense this show gives you that there is a good and traditional way that things ought to be. [....]

I find their hang-ups and class strictures annoying. And yet [....]

Don't want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds almost like you find something mythopoeic about the sense of purpose and implied design that is in the class structure even if it (the acknowledgment that there is purpose and design in life) is not always understood or responded to correctly by those within it. I don't find that to be atypical of postmodern reader/viewer who develop deep affinities for historical fiction/romance (I see the same thing operating in aspects of the Jane Austen revivals of the 80s and 90s). Live in a cultural/philosophical landscape that insists there is no purpose and no design, no "way things ought to be" (only the way things care or the way things have been) and the spirit cries out from deep to deep with an affinity not for the way class structure was justified (divine right of kings, noblesse oblige), nor even the class structure itself, but for the recognition that making sense of an often confusing existence is (at least) as integral a part of human happiness and spiritual fulfillment as the attainment of a privileged mode of existence.

The editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature say of Malory's Arthurian romances: "Nostalgia for an ideal past that never truly existed is typical of much historical romance" and "much of the tragic power of his romance lies in his sense of the irretrievability of past glory in comparison with the sordidness of his own age."

I would argue that DA, while having plenty of melodramatic elements, is ultimately more of an historical romance than a melodrama. (Digression #1--I think Upstairs, Downstairs is much the same material but as melodrama rather than historical romance. Digression #2--This postulate needs a lot more teasing out, and if there were world enough, and time...) While I think the first quote is perhaps more cynical (though not overly so, it's no different from Billy Joel's "The good old days weren't always so good" or Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" I do think it points to the mythopoeic longing you may be hinting at. It's not that we idealize the past any longer (our cynical, political age doesn't allow it) nor even that I/you want to ideal that particular age for particular political reasons, but there is, I think operating in the affection for the show a nostalgia for something....and it is on the irretrievability of that something that historical romance generates its power and does much (if not most) of its cultural work. I wouldn't say our age is sordid, specifically, but I do think it is directionless, or at least adrift, and in such times there is a deep longing for times when people had certainties, where there was a right and wrong and people could extract purpose from or imprint purpose on their lives (at whatever station) by understanding how they fit into a larger whole.

P.S. I think in some ways Daisy is my hero. But that's another huge digression...

Edited by kenmorefield

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Don't want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds almost like you find something mythopoeic about the sense of purpose and implied design that is in the class structure even if it (the acknowledgment that there is purpose and design in life) is not always understood or responded to correctly by those within it. I don't find that to be atypical of postmodern reader/viewer who develop deep affinities for historical fiction/romance (I see the same thing operating in aspects of the Jane Austen revivals of the 80s and 90s). Live in a cultural/philosophical landscape that insists there is no purpose and no design, no "way things ought to be" (only the way things care or the way things have been) and the spirit cries out from deep to deep with an affinity not for the way class structure was justified (divine right of kings, noblesse oblige), nor even the class structure itself, but for the recognition that making sense of an often confusing existence is (at least) as integral a part of human happiness and spiritual fulfillment as the attainment of a privileged mode of existence.

I think you're definitely on to something. The news coverage of the popularity of the show is amusing, partly because it comes from a sort of surprised double-take ("The ratings have increased mostly through word-of-mouth and ... Wait, we still like this?") Even the SNL parody touches upon how utterly ridiculous MTV culture thinks of Downton Abbey culture - it's a demonstrable difference of view. Sir Walter Scott wrote historical romances, and one of the definite points of his novels were an idealization of old ideals and values. Modern day times has changed and reformed a number of evils and oppressions that needed to be changed and reformed. But Downton Abbey is a show that demonstrates some of the old injustices we've rid ourselves of while still exploring some of the old values we chucked out with the bathwater that look like they were probably worth keeping. The nobility of different characters in the show has more to do with personal character than it does have to do with class. And yet, there's a sense in which the old British class structures look like they may have been occasionally meant to cultivate and protect certain attributes of nobility after all.

It's not that we idealize the past any longer (our cynical, political age doesn't allow it) nor even that I/you want to ideal that particular age for particular political reasons, but there is, I think operating in the affection for the show a nostalgia for something....and it is on the irretrievability of that something that historical romance generates its power and does much (if not most) of its cultural work. I wouldn't say our age is sordid, specifically, but I do think it is directionless, or at least adrift, and in such times there is a deep longing for times when people had certainties, where there was a right and wrong and people could extract purpose from or imprint purpose on their lives (at whatever station) by understanding how they fit into a larger whole.

A single paragraph that I believe you could probably develop into at least an entire thoughtful and fascinating essay. How many TV shows do Americans actually watch and how many of them cultivate an affection and nostalgia for something valuable that it seems like we have now irretrievably lost? Not many. It's also quite easy to cliche historical romance and nostalgia. It's not quite as easy to create a collection of complex characters, some of whom are convincingly genuinely good, and some of whom are legitimately wrestling with character flaws and losing while all the time making you believe they can still change. Our age is more than just directionless - it is anti-upper class, anti-elite, anti-intellectual even. Thus, the enjoyable irony that so many of us like this show.

On my own digression, my personality, personal tastes and natural proclivities tend to be repelled by anything that looks even remotely Jane Austenish. Downton Abbey is, somehow, an exception.

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It's not that we idealize the past any longer (our cynical, political age doesn't allow it) nor even that I/you want to ideal that particular age for particular political reasons, but there is, I think operating in the affection for the show a nostalgia for something....and it is on the irretrievability of that something that historical romance generates its power and does much (if not most) of its cultural work. I wouldn't say our age is sordid, specifically, but I do think it is directionless, or at least adrift, and in such times there is a deep longing for times when people had certainties, where there was a right and wrong and people could extract purpose from or imprint purpose on their lives (at whatever station) by understanding how they fit into a larger whole.

A single paragraph that I believe you could probably develop into at least an entire thoughtful and fascinating essay. How many TV shows do Americans actually watch and how many of them cultivate an affection and nostalgia for something valuable that it seems like we have now irretrievably lost? Not many. It's also quite easy to cliche historical romance and nostalgia.mehow, an exception.

Or parody it. I've been thinking about your reply most of the day and it made me realize that I think DA and the cultural work it does is almost the exact opposite of Mad Men. I enjoy MM after a fashion, but like so many one note parodies ("oh, isn't it funny how we use to be nostalgic about this period because, boy, oh boy, wasn't it awful?") it tends to wear thin on me very quickly. And I usually feel like those who like it or esteem it tend to think it is being more daring/brave/innovative than what I see. It sucks to be a woman in a patriarchal culture. It sucks to be a man in that culture. I think DA can show the problems, both personal and systemic of a period but still show people who try (and sometimes succeed) to carve out a life for themselves within it, whereas in MM nobody ever succeeds in doing that...in fact, it is Greek hubris to even try. I get that the cynical detachment is an emotional defense/cover for lives of quiet desperation, but, again, small doses....

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