Monday, February 27, 2012


This "Downton Abbey" thing. I'm watching with 50 percent interest and 50 percent sense of obligation to keep up with the conversation and 50 percent for Maggie Smith. I love epic television shows, especially to watch in bed, and especially those without too much head-stomping and woman-assaulting (those months of "The Sopranos," "The Wire," and "Boardwalk Empire" were a nightmare factory.) And I loved "Big Love," so, you know, I can get sucked into the melodrama of socially restrictive, kind-of-incestuous white people trying to hoard their questionably gained fortunes. I want to believe. I really do. But this is the show everyone is twittering about?


Drink every time Cora does the head-bowed eyes-tilted up lips-closed smile. This is one of her two expressions, the other one being when she forgets and actually raises her head like a normal person and looks concerned. Probably surprised at the view.

Drink every time the Earl has an outburst of righteous rage as he once again makes an ethically obvious decision. It's like the President at the climax of an American action movie, every time. Except on a tiny, sputtering English scale.

Drink every time you see Matthew's mouth poised partially open, his tongue hovering shyly just inside like a little pink fish. (Once you notice, this happens hideously often.)

Drink every time someone says "ma-MA" or "pa-PA." Then shoot me.

I think watching the hopelessly addictive "Manor House" some years back may have skewed me hard. It's the PBS reality show set in an Edwardian manor in the same period. After you watch the poor staff working 16-hour-days to the point of total physical and nervous breakdown, while the upstairs family say things like "I've never felt so cared for in my life" and take to calling their tween son "Master Jaunty" (seriously),  the shine really goes off the landed gentry. 

Also it probably doesn't help that right before "Downton" I watched season one of "Homeland." Say what you will about its politics (I have a whole abandoned post that attempts to but I gave up), that show was so debilitatingly exciting that anything afterward was doomed to feel limp and banal. I quaked through the finale. Before that, it was two seasons of "Treme," a show full of pleasure and unruliness and ramshackle joy.

Speaking of which: is there any pleasure in Downton Abbey? I am hard pressed to think of a situation where people actually seem to enjoy themselves for more than a moment. (Maybe Edith driving the tractor.) It is all genteel false smiles, or small suppressed private smiles, and the rare wicked smirk. How anyone's Anglophilia survives the show intact is beyond me.

I mean, I like it. I'll keep watching it in bed until PBS takes away the free stream. The widespread fervor just confuses me.

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