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?