Sunday, January 1, 2012

Fever Hits Downton Abbey

Seven days and 12 hours from now, on January 8, an event will occur on television that I suspect will be of historic proportions: the second season of Downton Abbey will premiere. The reason I think it will be historic is because, for the past year, anyone who watched the first season of Downton Abbey has been impatiently, fervently, obsessively waiting for the next season to start. 2011 was a very long year. The premiere of the second season promises to draw a record number of viewers for Masterpiece Classic shows, and maybe for PBS shows altogether.

What made this show so popular during its first season, a parse four episodes that seemed to end before it really event started, episodes that have been re-run over and over on PBS stations over the last year? Of course, there's the obvious - that English costume dramas have, since the beginning of time, highly popular with Americans. It's also based on the time-honored paradox of how the upstairs family lives their lives compared to the downstairs staff, and how they mix on a daily basis. But really, how many times can they create television series on these types of characters? The Brits must think Americans are daft for continually being suckers for these class-warfare themed shows.

But the Brits are crazy about this show too, to the point that the production has been plagued with people trying to find out what happens in the upcoming year. It's also because it is so well written with intriguing plots and subplots. It's not adapted from any British novels, television shows, or movies - it's truly original (written by Julian Fellows). It's also blessed with excellent acting, and with costume and setting quality that, I think, is unsurpassed. (It's the most expensive television drama in British history.) The show is very easy on the eyes - I for one can't take my eyes off of it, and I've watched it...well, I won't tell you how many times.

It also is centered around a historical phenomenon that I for one find fascinating. During the latter part of the 19th century, a good number of Englishmen that were titled but cash-poor and blessed (some might say saddled) with enormous estates, traveled to the United States to find young single women to marry who could bring huge dowries to the marriage. In a perfect world these wives, newly settled in England, would bear sons that would inherit these fortunes and keep everything, including 200-room estates, in the family.

But in Downton Abbey, there were no sons borne to Lord and Lady Grantham - they had three girls. Because of that, the inheritance was due to pass to Lord Grantham's cousin and his son, who was engaged to Lady Mary Grantham, the eldest daugheter. This would have safely kept the Abbey in the immediate family. But then there was this thing called the Titanic that created a horrible kink into that plan. Now Downton Abbey has to be passed to a very distant relative, Matthew Crawley, who really is not all that keen on the idea.

But what am I've probably all watched the first season ad nauseam like I have. You know all this.

Now fever has hit Downton Abbey in 21st century media. The second season is centered around World War I and how it affects Downton Abbey, the upstairs family and downstairs staff. Since yesterday, I've read three articles in Entertainment Weekly and the Los Angeles Times Magazine about the upcoming series. I'm sure that there will be dozens more articles and television entertainment show installments in the upcoming week. Dozens of Blogs and Facebook pages are also cropping up. (I found one on Facebook, "Addicted to Downton Abbey" that looks great - lots of bahind the scenes videos posted every day.)

In the meantime, until next Sunday, I for one will be impatiently drinking my tea and watching the first year yet again (recorded on DVR, never to be deleted), and waiting and wondering what will happens to my favorites: to Lady Mary now that she's spurned Matthew, to Bates and Anna, to childlike little Daisy the scullery maid, and to poor Lady Edith, cursed with being the middle child and homely at that. And then there's the Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith. She is worth the price of admission herself.

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Kenneth Gibbons LLC said...

Liked the post. The Wild West I always loved following. Well written. thanks, Ken

Melissa Marsh said...

I ADORE this series! And I just got all caught up on it all. It's extremely well done, from the costumes and acting to the superb writing. I am loving it all.

Barry Traylor said...

My wife got hooked at first due to the fact that she loves the clothing of this time period. Harrison Fisher being her favorite artist, then stayed for the story.
I too love this sort of thing when well done, which Downton Abbey is for sure.
Maggie Smith is worth watching anytime.
I loved the episode when the guy died during lovemaking, then the ladies took him back to his own room.

Barry Traylor said...

I just remembered that on our way back from visiting her family near Atlanta, Georgia on our way home we visited The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.
I was fascinated by how the servants lived in the downstairs part.

Laurie Powers said...

Kenneth, thanks for commenting, and glad you like the blog. Feel free to comment!

Hi Melissa - We'll have to keep in touch during the new season!

Barry, the clothing is just magnificent. I think the only movie that comes close is The Wings of the Dove. I love that period too. It's also funny that you mention the Biltmore Estate - I have two prints (of birds) that say at the bottom "Biltmore Estate, N.C." Always wondered why they have that...I bought them in an antique shop several years ago.

Laurie Powers said...

Hey Barry and Melissa - I've always you think Thomas was somehow responsible for the Turk's death?

Barry Traylor said...

It is possible Thomas had something to do with the Turk's death. I was puzzled at how a young virile man could die during sex. The two characters I love to hate are Thomas and Sarah O'Brien (a match made in hell if ever there was one).
Interesting fact about The Biltmore Estate is that is has 250 rooms. and has 275,000 square feet. I found the downstairs part to be more cheeful than the upstairs with very dark Victorian furnishings.
It is going to be interesting to see how the 2nd series handles WW I as it jumps ahead to 1916. The Battle of the Somme began on 7/1/1916 and British losses on the first day were 58,000 (the total in less than 5 months was 350,000). Needless to say WWI was a real meat grinder.

Barry Traylor said...

Forgot to mention that George Vanderbilt called Biltmore his "little mountain escape"!

Richard R. said...

Wow, I'd not heard of this one. I'll have to try it, or better, hunt up the first season on DVD, when it becomes available.

Barry Traylor said...

Richard, You can get it through Netflix. Or check your local PBS station as they may be running the first season this coming weekend before the second season begins. Not a bad idea to catch up with who is who first.

Laurie Powers said...

I was just about to post the same thing, Barry. I'd be willing to bet that most PBS stations are going to run them again over the weekend before Sunday night.

Rick, it's good to 'see' up and about - hope you're feeling better.

Walker Martin said...

A few years ago I was in the Ashville, NC area and visited Biltmore. The place is beyond belief and enormous. I kept driving my wife nuts by saying "Biltmore should have built less".

I bet the Southern Civil War vets in 1889 hated the idea of a rich Yankee buying up all the land and building Biltmore. It's a wonder he didn't shot. Of course I guess he created a lot of jobs for the locals. I saw where the servants lived also and it was not a pretty sight.

Richard R. said...

Thanks, Laurie and Walker, I'll check Netflix.