Fall has descended on television and as usual there is enough dreck and crap and garbage to choke all the horses
The BBC, though, has given the world a great gift. Downton Abbey is the nighttime, must-see, class-clashing soap opera.
In the past there have been enough wild plot points, poignant moments and twists and turns to keep an audience entertained.
Like most other popular dramas this show uses a few entertainment tropes to fuel the entertainment fire.
Unlike a lot of other popular dramas the writers happen to do a very good job of handling these tropes.
There’s the sassy older matriarch, keeping everyone in check and underdogs striving for just as much attention as the matriarch gets.
Throw in some sibling rivalry and sexual tension and romance and the whole thing sings.
As the show begins airing in the UK let’s take a look back in time at five reasons why we should settle back into the grey, English countryside for Series Three:
1. Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess
Never has there been a better reason to watch any television program than to watch this woman whip barbs and quips with grace and elegance and vitriol.
And yes, the glory of Smith’s portrayal of the Dowager Countess is that she manages to do all three with glee.
At the age of 77 Maggie Smith is clever, wry and lively and her Dowager Countess is no different.
Here are a few of her choice, cutting lines from series past:
- “One can’t go to pieces at the death of every foreigner. We’d be in a constant state of collapse whenever we opened a newspaper.”
- “No one wants to kiss a girl in black.”
- “So, that’s Mary’s replacement. Well, I suppose looks aren’t everything.”
- “What is a weekend?”
And my favorite exchange:
Dowager Countess: You are quite wonderful the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal.
Lady Crawley: I take that as a compliment.
Dowager Countess: I must have said it wrong.
2. Workplace Drama
A show needs drama to survive, to leave an audience starved for more and to further the plot points.
There needs to be a narrative for there to be a show at all. Downton Abbey has an abundance of romantic drama, but the workplace drama is thrilling too.
There’s an evil butler who never seems to do anything right, and even stole the master’s dog.
A maid with complicated feelings and morals who can’t quite sort out if she’s a good or bad guy in this world of manners and repression.
She left a strategically placed bar of soap outside the tub to trip her lady, which resulted in a miscarriage.
Add in several complicated workplace romances and the mix is nearly complete. The down-on-his-luck valet falls in love with a maid, but he’s still married.
The footman falls in love with the chef’s assistant, who marries him out of guilt while he’s on his deathbed.
The maid who shags a houseguest, gets knocked up and banished from Downton. It’s all in there.
3. Sibling Rivalry
Three wealthy sisters under one roof and all they can think to do is squabble.
Each one loves the others, but boy, they do not agree!
When Sybil wants to become a nurse, the others scoff until Edith decides to act out her middle-child attention seeking by treating patients in their stately home herself.
The jealousy! The squabbles. The outfits!
Sisters are doing it for themselves and then the other sisters do not like it.
On a show with so much pomp there is no shortage of underdogs, fighting to be seen and heard, scrapping away to get ahead.
Daughter Edith is the typical neglected and muddling middle child, always striving for attention. Driver Branson is a political radical in love with the youngest Crawley daughter.
Poor valet/criminal/war veteran Bates faces eviction, imprisonment and heartbreak at every turn.
With all these people to root for and against, there’s no shortage sad sacks to keep the drama clipping along at a wild pace.
5. Sexual Tension
Leading ingénue Lady Mary Crawley and her cousin Matthew Crawley have enough romantic tension to spark the entire manse on fire.
Their eyes dart flames at each other but their proper manners dictate that they must never lunge for one another.
Mary’s secret tryst with the Turkish man who perished in her bed (scandal) only adds to their sexual dance.
We can odly hope it will end with a proper shag -- but I’m sure we’ll be out of luck.
It’s Downton afterall.
Where no one is allowed to live entirely happily ever after.