Downton Abbey? – Hmmmmm…

February 8th, 2012

Along with what seems like the rest of the country, I too have been watching Masterpiece Theater’s Downton Abbey.  I really liked the first season and was anxious for the second season to begin.  Strangely, I have found the second season to be weirdly melodramatic, sometimes very silly, absurdly repetitive and filled with overwrought acting.  To me, Downton Abbey seems to be an American mini-series disguised as a British mini-series.  There are moments, especially when Maggie Smith is delivering a line, that the show almost seems more like a satire of itself than a serious period drama.  I understand that her character is meant to be something of a caricature, but she seems to be too aware of the cartoonish quality of her role and that makes is all seem like a Monty Python sketch.

What I have always loved about British shows is the stoic reserve, the biting dialogue and the normal looking people (uneven teeth, imperfect complexions, the less than glamorous female actresses) and the fabulous backdrops (imposing estates, lush gardens, rain drenched cobblestones, gloomy cityscapes, foreboding cliffs, boggy peats, luminous forests, small stone cottages with curly cues of smoke rising from the chimney and wind swept meadows strewn with the corpses of a thousand brides).  (Never mind that last one…)  But what I am saying is that this second season of Downton Abbey has somehow been weirdly Americanized.  It’s mostly to do with the writing and the delivery of the lines, the repetition of the storylines (seriously – how may times does the youngest daughter have to have the exact same conversation with the lovelorn chauffeur?)  and what is it with the ridiculous amount of long panning camera shots on characters that are doing nothing other than glowering and/or pouting and/or looking pensive off into the middle distance?  Do I really need another slow pan over the face of the evil lady’s maid O’Brien and her sidekick Thomas the plotting footman?  How many more lingering gazes does the camera need to rest on Lady Mary?  She is a very attractive actress, but I have looked at her for so long that I have come to think that she has the most monstrous eyebrows in the universe.  Perhaps if I had not had to stare at her stricken face for approximately half of every episode, I might still think she had very normal eyebrows.  And could someone please put some blush on the pale kitchen maid Daisy!  She looks like the walking dead!  Why did poor William fall so hard for her?  She looks anemic!  Perhaps she is the inspiration behind my English meadow full of dead brides!

I do love the palpable disdain that the Earl of Grantham has for his middle daughter Edith.  At this point, it is the only part of the show that is keeping me entertained.  Overall, I love the Brits for their reserve, their icy delivery, their gimlet eyed view of the world, their inablity to emote and the way that everything they think, feel and believe is expressed in their playful use of language. I don’t want to stare at a British character.  I want to listen to what they say. And I want them to say it in a garden that is in front of a looming estate that hides a secret room that is filled with dead brides.

Downton Abbey has at least got the looming estate and the garden right.  Now if we could just get those characters to say something interesting.

I know that for some reason, America has fallen in love with this show.  And that is great for PBS especially in this climate of such vitriol towards all things publicly funded.  Still, I think that the popularity of this show has worked against it.  I imagine that I will continue to watch this season, but I am already tired of it.

Except for this dress…

I am not at all tired of Lady Mary’s black evening dress with the velvet ribboned sleeves.

What do you think of the show?


  • Susan Sawatzky:

    Maybe this?

    I’m enjoying the series but then I think I may have fewer expectations from any TV show these days. I long for days of real theater on television and there just isn’t that available any longer. Vampires, ghosts, cops, rapes, lots of blood and gore. No fineses in tv in this day.

    • Rechelle:

      Thanks for the link. I really appreciated his viewpoint.

  • I watched the first season on Netflix and absolutely loved it. This season is OK, but it feels like it was rushed a bit. Some elements seem so ‘soapy’ like Julian Fellowes spent too much time watching General Hospital or something.

    Some of the storylines are dragging, like Sybil and Branson. Really, these two are in love? I’m not seeing much chemistry. What have they done to Matthew’s mother, Isobel? Last season, she seemed like quite a match for Violet, but now she’s acting like an upper-class twit. Why is O’Brien still out to get Bates?

    I’ll keep watching because they’ve thoroughly sucked me in, but I’m really hoping that the third season is much better.

    • km:

      I feel like this should be on twice a week in half hour increments. It’s flying along at breakneck pace ! On the last episode they said that 6 years had passed since the Titanic sunk ie the first episode. Good lord !! It’s way too fast.

      Here are my bones of contention- I’m Irish and I’m sick of Branson. English people should not write Irish charachters because as is obvious with Branson they must have zero insight into our psyche. Thanks though for not giving him a lucky charms accent anyway. That’s a bit of a break for us. I have never met anyone like him in my entire days, he is an insufferable bore with zero redeeming factors. They have given him no passion, no hotheaded crawthumping fight. Give me a break! He’s an ink-running-out photocopy of an Irishman.

      The Canada eejit in this episode was ridiculous. That was a plot line written when coffee ran out.

      I don’t understand the Bates love.

      Didn’t Matthew get very used to being a big shot very quickly? How many free passes home during the war did he get. The pace doesnt’ help.
      I like Mary and I’m getting to like Edith. I feel like they may write Edith mean again soon though as we need the swerve.

      I like Sybil but I’d prefer if she raged against the machine a bit more. What she sees in boring Branson in beyond me.

      Oddly, Lord Grantham is my favorite. Then the housekeeper, then the butler.

      I love the Dowager Countess’ zingers. Everyone should have a few of them in their dialogue.

      You said – Overall, I love the Brits for their reserve, their icy delivery, their gimlet eyed view of the world, their inablity to emote and the way that everything they think, feel and believe is expressed in their playful use of language.

      In Downton Abbey I also wish there were more real English people, not just the aristocracy and the equally class-conscious below stairs staff but the everyday, salty village people. I sometimes think Americans imagine there isn’t one blue collar person in the entire British Isles. I wonder what they’d think of Coronation Street’s cast over the years? Do they know that there are Hilda Ogdens and her current day equivalents?
      No dig at you Rechelle, I know you’re writing this in the context of Downton Abbey. I’m gathering that impression from people I have met here in my decades of expat-edness.

      • km:

        I forgot to say, I actually like the show. It’s the highlight of my tv week. But boy am I looking forward to Mad Men.

      • Amanda:

        Ah corrie! I remember watching it as a child visiting my grandmother, and she, my mother and I would race to the Telly when we heard those trumpet strains. Such a mournful tune!! Watching it again about 5 years ago after a lapse of too many years, I feel I could still pick up the story. But I think eastenders is my pick of English soapies.

  • Kait:

    Not watching. I like my British watching to include murder or comedy and Downton Abbey does not make me think of either. Just looking at those lovely actresses in their lovely costumes really does make me think “Americanized”.

  • Carol Kufeldt:

    Rechelle- I don’t watch it, but I hear enough about it from friends and EW to be somewhat informed. In case you missed it this weekend, SNL did a great little “commercial” for it with clips of the show and a crazed announcer.

  • amy:

    OMG – my mom (who is an Anglophile) had me catch up on this show because she really likes it. I have watched Season 1 and what’s been on of Season 2 now and, though I’m entertained, I’m horrified by the total “soapiness” of this show. Who ever thought the British could be this cheesy and trite? Seriously, who didn’t know ahead of time that Branson was not going to get a chance to douse anyone with muck because he’d be stopped by one of the servants? Who didn’t immediately know that Mrs. Bates was dead when Bates came walking home from visiting Mrs. Bates (and that he’ll be accused of her murder)? And, who, for a moment, believed that Matthew’s reproductive capacities (much less his ability to walk) are gone for more than a couple of episodes?

    That said, I am enjoying the various snarky reviews online. The back and forth coverage on Slate is really worth a read:

    Hopefully, things will get a little less predictable and a little better written next season. Looking forward to seeing Shirley Maclaine up against Maggie Smith. Could be really fun to watch!

  • Amanda:

    Do check out Uptown Downstairs Abbey, it will give you renewed faith in the English ability to take the piss out of anything!

    • km:

      Amanda, thank you !!!!!!!! That was hilarious. Off to tip off my buddies.
      Great to see so many familiar faces too:)

      • Amanda:

        Pleased to pass the fun around.

  • JennyME:

    Season 1 was much better. Downton is a pretty show, and fun to watch, but it is not an intelligent show. Far too much clumsy exposition, for one thing.

    I can’t decide which of the couples I hate more…Bates and Anna are corny. Sybill and Branson are completely effing boring. Combined they have about as much personality as a wet paper bag and I would love nothing more than for Branson to drive them offscreen in Lord Grantham’s motorcar.

    I keep watching for Maggie Smith’s one-liners, the gorgeous dresses, and the house.

    • km:

      I agree with everything you said :)

  • km:

    Take a look at Mrs. Hughes and O’Brien:) Wow

    • Rechelle:

      Wow. Some of them look like completely different people! Strangely the girl who plays Daisy needs blush in real life too. ;)

  • Leslie:

    I have seen the first season and really enjoyed it. Not so sad now that I have missed the second season up to this point. I will watch it eventually when it comes on Netflix but I won’t make a point of trying to watch it now…

    • km:

      You can get it on PBS’s website too

  • NCme:

    I never saw the first season but hearing all the hoopla I DVR’d starting the second. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I couldn’t get through the first episode. I ended up deleting the rest. Perhaps I should have started with season one?

  • amy:

    Did anyone else like this week’s episode (#5)? Yes, predictable in some ways, but I actually found myself having a lot of fun watching it…

    • km:

      I really enjoyed it. And for some reason the set/house itself seemed even more sumptuous than usual. (Maybe because all the beds are goine and they used very wide shots). It seemed like a showcase of the house.
      OK, I was even rooting for Branson this week

  • joanlvh:

    i too liked Season 1, I stopped watching Season 2 after the third episode

  • susan:

    i agree with you Rechelle. I thought is was the only one who feels the story line incorporates everything but the kitchen sink. what have they not thrown in!

    and the illegitimate baby?! hasnt it grown in the years that have passed?

    and YES………………TO THE BLACK DRESS!!! I do doubt she would have the same dress on year in and year out.

    i am glad u are back.

  • Every single time they show the outside of the estate all I can think about is how they need to get some FREAKIN POTTED PLANTS. Where are the flowers? Where is the English garden?

    Plus, no horses. Don’t the British ride horses?

    And where is the lemon curd?

    However the size of the tea cups is spot on.