"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Downton Abbey Jumps the Shark Redux

I've had criticisms of Downton Abbey on the blog before.   Beginning in the second season, I thought they went too melodramatic, in a silly way.   The episode with the Ouija board was the final straw, but other story lines -- Bates' imprisonment, the Matthew is wounded in the war and can't walk, but then can, and can't make love, but then presumably can story -- all seemed to me to be too easy, too pat.   I'd seen those scenes before a hundred times.   They could have written themselves.

And perhaps that was the real problem.   The scenes weren't being written by real writers, but by what appeared to be automatons.   We've got a beautiful setting and we've picked a time frame and we've got a list of upstairs and downstairs British characters.   Mix them all up in the Masterpiece Theatre Super Deluxe Sunday Night Drama machine, press a button and out squirts a punch-pressed, same-old, same-old festival of cliches.  

This season it may be even worse, starting with killing off the youngest daughter, Sybil, in childbirth.   Here's how stupid that was.

First, it killed off easily the best-looking and sexiest of the three daughters of the family.   Played by Jessica Brown Findlay, Sybil was also the sweetest and most appealing of the three daughters.   What could possess them to kill her off?

I mean seriously, wouldn't you want to have this face around on your TV show?

Second, putting the decorative aspects aside, the only reason to use the death of Sybil dramatically is to create divisions between Lord and Lady Grantham.   The problem with that is simple.

They are easily the most boring characters on the show.   Particularly Lord Grantham, as played by Hugh Bonneville.   He's a guy who inherited the estate, was able to save it only by marrying a wealthy American, proceeded to blow all of her money, now has lucked out and had his daughter Mary find a husband, Matthew, who happens to have inherited money from his former fiancee's father (none of which makes sense either), and now is apparently trying to blow that through mismanagement.   Why would anyone put up with this incompetent old coot?   And, if so, why should we care about his character?   Answer:  we don't.   So why do the writers focus on him?  

What they should have done, what the show is really about, is to focus on the conflict between the sedentary, conservative, landed gentry, whose lifestyle is the epitome of a "dying business model," versus the younger, middle-class, business types (like Matthew and, if they had been thinking straight, Branson), who start making "new money" in the Roaring 20s.   That would have been interesting.   Now, we just have a soap opera where someone has to die every few episodes to keep the machine running.


  1. Ran across your blog because I Googled Astrid Heeren (watching Castle Keep and thought she was the girl from The Thomas Crown Affair - I was proved correct via your blog).
    You are right about Downton, it has slipped into melodrama this series. Like most quality television , the creative juices seem to ebb somewhere around the second season/series and then maybe bounce back for one last hurrah around the fourth.
    The fourth series is slated to enter production this month (Feb. 2013), and it will probably get a fifth.
    The actors will probably seek other opportunity, also, much like Diana Rigg bolting during her Avengers heyday.

  2. Why is this inane, repetitive classist drivel still so widely regarded as "quality television"? Only the Season Two Christmas Special lived up to the promise of the flawed but riveting first season.