Friday, November 29, 2013

Coming to Downtown Abbey on the late train

There are certain benefits in coming to a show late.

For example, when there’s a big death – you miss all the hoopla because you weren’t paying attention to the spoilers when it was relevant.

What am I babbling about?

I finally jumped on the Downton Abbey brigade this week and not only did I start watching the show, but I finished it as well. How did I watch the fourth season before it hit American airwaves? Yeah, I went and bought it on Blu-Ray – that’s how much of a slave to (quality) television I am.

Binge-watching has its benefits, let me tell you. As a viewer that managed to watch all four seasons in several days, I didn’t have to sit and lament the long breaks between television seasons. As a viewer, I jumped right from Matthew and Mary’s Christmas engagement to their wedding planning. There was none of that pesky eight months of nailbiting to hold me back.

Since I came to the show so late, I think I probably have a view of the show that is unique (or less mainstream might be more apt).  In other words, no one could bend my opinion because I plowed through the show on my own and didn’t let them.

First off, I’m not going to lie, while I love the show there seems to be an obvious drop off in the
quality of writing between the second and third seasons. Yeah, I said it.

British television shows are different from American television shows. British shows usually sign actors to three-year deals – compared to the seven-year deals American television shows boast. Because of this, there are a lot of British television shows that only last three  years (or less) and even more that have high turnover rates in their casts because of this fact.

That’s why the main cast of the British Being Human, for example, had a complete cast turnover before the end of the show.

So, when the third season of Downton Abbey hits, it becomes fairly obvious early on that Jessica Brown Findlay was obviously being set up to be written out as Lady Sybil. While her death is heartbreaking (she was my favorite of the three sisters), it’s not all that surprising.

More surprising – but not shocking, I guess – was the death of Matthew Crawley, one of the main characters on the show. Dan Stevens was clearly one of the breakout stars, much like Aidan Turner was on Being Human. The fact that Stevens would try to turn his success on Downton Abbey into a film career isn’t exactly shocking.
What I find most interesting about Downton Abbey is that everyone I know (yes, pretty much
everyone) says it’s one of the best shows they’ve ever watched.

The show is entertaining, don’t get me wrong. It has a certain magic attached to it. You get to see how both sides of the economic coin live in a period time piece, while interacting with each other. It’s fairly entertaining.

At its heart, though, Downtown Abbey is a soap opera. It’s just like General Hospital – only with believable accents.

Sure, no one has come back from the dead yet (well, Matthew kind of did in the second season, but not quite) but we’ve had a breast cancer scare, prostitution, lying about sex, almost affairs, actual affairs, young women marrying older men, women marrying men their fathers don’t approve of, dramatic death by childbirth, men being locked up for crimes they didn’t commit, rape, etc.

I can hear it right now. People are going to start emailing me and telling me that Downtown Abbey is much better than any soap opera. True, the acting is better than most soap operas, that doesn’t mean it’s still not a high class soap opera.

I guess it’s a good thing that I like soap operas.

The truth is, I think I watched the entire run of Downton Abbey at the same time the show will start
its inevitable downturn.

The quality of the writing in a show  usually goes first – and we definitely saw that in season three. Then some of the cast starts to defect. We’ve seen that, too. Now some of the storylines will get more and more ridiculous – season four is all over the place, quite frankly – and then the show will suddenly be barely recognizable.

Still, Downton Abbey is unique in the fact that it’s a simple tale that caught on at a time when it had no business being popular. For that reason alone, I was prepared to like the show.

The first two seasons of it, though, were so well done that I fell in love with it. That’s enough for me to ignore (most of) the foibles of the third and fourth seasons. Let’s hope the show let’s go before it needs to be put out of its misery, though.

What do you think? Am I crazy to equate Downton Abbey to a soap opera?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home