Every year there is a new show that everyone praises so much you think it can’t possibly be as good as they all act it is (but it usually is pretty damn good television). A couple of years ago, the in show to obsess over was Downton Abbey, and after two seasons of fighting it, I have recently gotten up to speed just in time for the season three US premiere. Like with Mad Men and Breaking Bad before it, Downton Abbey does live up to the hype with first class acting, writing, etc. Everything about this strong and shows what television can do as a medium.
Downton Abbey follows Robert Crawley- the Earl of Grantham, his family and servants that live in his home. His has three daughters, all at the age where they should be married off, a American born wife, and a nosey mother played by Maggie Smith. What I love about the cast is that none of the main characters are bad people. They all have their flaws which leads to the bulk of the drama, but deep down all them mean well, most of the time. Ever Thomas and O’Brien have their moments where they’re not total pains in the ass! The family cares deeply for their servants and appreciate all the perks their wealth provides them with. I’m not sure how accurate it all is, but it’s refreshing to watch a show that doesn’t make you hate half the cast. Even the stuffy Maggie Smith shows compassion towards the help.
One of the center stories revolves around the Earl’s valet, John Bates. He enters the house a man with many secrets and must battle the jealous and crafty Thomas who feels the position was rightly his. Bates developed a relationship with house maid Anna while still tethered to his first wife who bitterly fought the legal end to their marriage. Every time Anna and Bates find some happiness, the first wife would pop back in to make their lives hellish, finally killing herself in a way that would make it look like she was murdered by Bates. Where we last leave them, Bates is serving life in prison after narrowly escaping a death sentence. It sometimes boarders on misery porn because they are such good people, it’s frustrating to watch their happy ending consistently just beyond their reach.
Another ongoing story involves the Earl’s oldest daughter Mary and his heir (daughters cannot inherit the title) Matthew. As Mary was engaged to the previous heir (who was killed on the Titanic), there is the assumption that they will pair off, but they don’t get along when they first meet. Over time they build a friendship that turns into love, however, their happiness is first thwarted by Mary’s brattiness (as she ignores Matthew in order to show up her plainer sister, Edith) and later Matthew is engaged to another woman, but the last shot of season two had the ready to give romance a final try. I really can’t get too invested in them as I find Mary too obnoxious but I’ll root for them as long as their relationship doesn’t ruin anymore lives.
One of the major themes in the show is the ways the options for women were changing. All three daughters have found themselves wanted more purpose than a life of primping and being waited on, none more that youngest Sybil, who defied her father by marrying the family’s chauffeur and moving to Ireland.
I am going to be a bit controversial and admit I don’t think Maggie Smith deserves all the awards she’s winning for her role. While she’s a lot of fun in the role, there’s not much meat there compared to some of her counterparts from other shows. Last year Christina Hendricks knocked it out of the park in Mad Men and it was tough to see her lose. Award shows tend to favor supporting characters who are amusing, as she is a very respected actress with a long career so she’s most likely being awarded for her legacy.
Season three premieres in the US this Sunday (Jan 6) and I’ll be recapping all episodes right here. Stay tune!