Last winter and spring, I went through something of a phase: I watched all of the BBC period dramas I could get my hands on. Emma, North & South… if it was set in the past and featured at least one member of the cast of Harry Potter, I watched it. One day, something I hadn’t heard of popped up on Netflix Instant and was recommended: Downton Abbey. Weirdly enough, that same day I came across a blog post by Felicia Day that raved about it. The extra nudge was more than I needed. I watched the entire first season in a little more than a day.
The series had me hooked immediately. Unlike the other period dramas I’d been watching, this was more modern – set in the twentieth century – and as such wasn’t as “old-timey.” Since it’s an original drama, it’s not bound by source content, either, and is somewhat less predictable in how everything will end up. Throw in a stellar cast and gorgeous cinematography, and I was instantly mourning the fact that the second season wouldn’t air until the coming fall.
Still, in my head, I held Downton Abbey separate from my usual geeky enthusiasms. Surely others would find this show ‘girly’ or ‘soapy.’ If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen my excitement bubble out from time to time, but for the most part I didn’t have anyone with whom to chat about the show. Sure, people were willing to tune into PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery to watch Sherlock, but telling them to watch something that airs on Masterpiece Classic is something else again.
As it turns out, though, I needn’t have been alone. The first season of Downton Abbey aired last winter on PBS, but hardly anyone (including myself) saw it then. Instead, word of mouth, several Golden Globes, and availability on Netflix Instant allowed the show to quietly spread in popularity amongst American viewers. By the time PBS re-aired the first season in December, new viewers turned out in droves (I personally made family members set their DVRs while I was on the phone). And they’ve kept watching through the second season, as well.
Now my Twitter feed is full of people geeking out over Downton Abbey, proving once more that it’s not about the genre, it’s about good, compelling entertainment. Is the show perfect? No. Can it be a little soapy? Sure. But it’s good television, and it’s not that difficult to recognize good television. Perhaps I should have had a little more faith in my fellow geeks, and more actively shared my passion.
For those interested
So, if you haven’t given Downton Abbey a try, there are many ways to watch it. The first season is available on Netflix Instant; the second, which concludes next Sunday, is currently available to watch on PBS’ Masterpiece site. It might also be airing in repeats on your local PBS station, but that takes some hunting.
As mentioned before, the cast is superb (Maggie Smith is, unsurprisingly, a favorite for most). As an American, I wasn’t super-familiar with the class system in England from this time, all the rules and roles and customs, but the show makes it pretty clear without being too much of an info-dump. Oh, by the way: you might find people who compare DA to the movie Gosford Park, which was written by the same man. If you found yourself nodding off during Gosford Park, don’t let that put you off Downton Abbey – I personally find the latter to be much more entertaining and easy to follow than the former.
For those ‘in the know’
Now, if you’re like me, and you’re a longtime Downton Abbey fan, you’re probably well aware of the issues inherent in loving a show that first airs on the other side of the Atlantic months before we get it here. If you’ve been avoiding DA in the media to hide from spoilers, you might have missed a few of these spoofs, which are quite fun and spoiler-free (if you’ve seen the first season).
A Very Carson Christmas – This first aired on “Friday Night with Jonathan Ross.” I’d buy a copy!
Uptown Downstairs Abbey – This is a Comic Relief sketch. Some parts are better than others, but it’s all good, silly fun. And some of the actors involved are… surprising. Don’t forget to watch the second part!
Downton Abbey Stars On-Screen vs. Off-Screen – We aren’t super-familiar with the all the actors on the show, so some of these are quite surprising. In general, the more plain they are in-character, the more shocking the contrast.
Filming for the third season has started this week, and I already can’t wait!
What about you? Are you going to give Downton Abbey a try? Or are you already a fan? Share your thoughts! Remember, the last (Christmas) episode hasn’t aired yet in the US, so be wary of spoilers!