Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Girls of the Day - One Last Post on How Downton Abbey Jumped the Shark
I still keep coming back to how I think Downton Abbey jumped the shark. It all has to do with decisions the writers made to take the easy way out.
Let's start with Edith, who gets the least attention from the writers. In Season 1 she almost was going to be married to Sir Anthony Strahlen, and older, wealthy man, until her sister Mary screwed it up by falsely saying in a loud voice (loud enough for Sir Anthony to hear) that Edith was only toying with this older man whom she actually found ridiculous. On the contrary, Edith actually loved and respected Sir Anthony. Let's say that instead of taking that easy way out the writers actually had Edith marry Sir Anthony. First, that would have been more interesting to have the spinster sister, the ugly duckling, actually get married first and have money and status and power of her own. Second, I think that would have set up a lot of interesting story lines for Edith (who now will be having sex and children, unlike her sisters)... for instance, I could imagine a kind of Dorothea Brooke/Casaubon story of gradual marital disillusionment. That would have been adult, compelling drama.
Now let's talk about Sybil, the beautiful youngest daughter who ends up married to the radical Marxist chauffer and moving to Ireland. I think the daugher with the left-wing/suffragette tendencies is a cliche, and it played that way throughout the two seasons -- I never really got the sense that she really believed anything she was saying. But what if, instead of being a Marxist... or in addition to it... Branson the chauffer, who we know knows a thing or two about cars... gradually starts a successful automobile repair/dealership/factory on the side in town, starts making real money, branches out, and all of a sudden is a commercial success in a growing industry. That would create conflict for his character (because his commercial success would be at odds with his socialist sympathies), and conflict with the family (because he's making his own money while they either inherited it or married it). Other than the first season (and not for long), when there was initial conflict between Matthew as a middle-class lawyer and the Crawleys as aristocrats, there hasn't really been much conflict between the dying aristocracy and the growing-more-powerful middle class Britain. (Richard Carlisle doesn't count, because he's a fabulously wealthy newspaper magnate.) This has been a consistent missed opportunity for the series. Again, that kind of real class conflict would have been adult, compelling drama.
Finally, let's talk about Mary. The biggest jump-the-shark moment in the series slipped by us, but has really colored the series ever since -- the entirely incredible moment early in the first season when Kemal Pamuk, a strapping, dashing young Turk, has a heart attack and dies while having sex with Mary. Come on, really? And then Mary, who had sex with a visiting Turk she had barely met, never has sex again for the next eight years? Wouldn't the story have been much better if she had liked the sex with Pamuk, Pamuk had lived and hung about occasionally over the rest of the series, along with other men, and that the conflict in her character, the secret, wasn't that she had had sex once and the man died, but that she had had sex more than once, liked it, and nevertheless had to suffer under the social and family expectations of virginity at that time, all the while loving (but not really being all that attracted to) Matthew, whom everyone expects she must marry? (Note: part of the reason I say this is because, viewed objectively, Mary is way too hot for Matthew, who has become a bit of a cold fish.)
In short, you could make a slowly deteriorating marriage, a slowly building commercial success, and a woman slowly awakening to her sexuality work over a number of seasons on TV. What they've done instead is leave Downton Abbey in a spot where it's hard to imagine how the third season will be interesting.
In other words, the Regular Guy could write this shit better than the BBC jerks they have writing it.