Downton Abbey: nothing succeeds like excess

  • Wednesday, February 12, 2014

  • Updated Wednesday, February 12, 2014 1:07 pm

I’m hooked on Downton Abbey and I’m not the only one. 10.2 million viewers watched the season 4 premiere. I mean, it’s all people are talking about. Plus it’s the highest grossing show on record for PBS. What’s not to love? The period costumes, the set designs, the fabulous acting, the intricate workings inside the mansion and the proper British accents. Who doesn’t love Maggie Smith?

On Facebook, people start posting reminders Sunday morning, knowing the show won’t come on for twelve hours! “Don’t forget Downton Abbey tonight. Tune in!” In the grocery store, shoppers are grabbing ingredients for apple charlotte. There’s even an official Downton Abbey Cookbook. “From Lady Mary’s crab canapés to Mrs. Patmore’s Christmas pudding,” they tout. Clothes, shoes and jewelry styled after the show are being sold online and in stores.

Byproducts of the series also show up on Pinterest, Twitter, blogs and magazines. If you haven’t heard of Downton Abbey, either you don’t own a TV or you’ve been sleeping under a rock. People, including me and my family, take this show quite seriously.

My sister nearly hung up on me one night in the middle of a serious conversation. Me: “Cathy, should I go with the usual highlights with Erica or should I consider lowlights?” Cathy: “I don’t know. What would Rose do?” Who the heck is Rose, I wondered; but before I could ask, I heard “Gotta go! Downton Abbey’s on!” Click! Right, I’m thinking. Then I remember that Rose is the party girl, the rebel without a cause, the wild child. But that’s not why Cathy said what she did. It’s because Rose, a Crawley cousin, is the only blonde female on the show (royalty, that is.) But there’s plenty of blonde men. Go figure.

I really dig the characters. Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are in charge of the large staff who cook, clean, dress, drive and sometimes counsel the family. Robert, the Earl of Grantham, and his wife, Cora, are the head of the house, but the Dowager, Lady Violet Crawley, (Robert’s mother) wields the most power — that being Dame Maggie Smith. How about these feisty quotes of hers: “Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s so middle class.” And, “Nothing succeeds like excess.”

Isobel Crawley, former nurse, and Matthew’s mother (Mary’s late husband) is refreshing and an enjoyable contrast. She’s a peacekeeper, nurturer and supporter. A cause is always finding her. I’d love to be her neighbor.

Few of us can imagine being dressed by a Lady’s Maid for meals, parties, fox hunts and cricket; much less being dressed for bed, but it happens on Downton Abbey. And like most soap operas, there is plenty of drama. Lady Mary, the widow, is being courted by three suitors. Who will she pick?

Some of the stuff is downright unbelievable. Like baby Sybil (named after her mother, Sybil, who died in childbirth), who appears to be almost four years old, still being carted around in a stroller. And Tom (Sybil’s father), an ex-chauffer/staff—now a member of the family by marriage—doesn’t seem to mind.

Tonight’s episode was a real shake-up. Lady Mary (who is usually dour, distant and dubious) walks down the road after dark, dressed in her beautiful tea-length gown with a guest (and her nemesis.) Blakely, a consultant — also dressed to the nines in a tuxedo — wants to show her the newest addition to the place — pigs. But, uh-oh! Some of them look sick. He tells Mary they’re dehydrated and runs to the water pump. Not to be outdone, she jumps in to help. Pretty soon they’re both covered in mud. They get tickled, begin to flirt and end up flinging mud at each other. Nice way to start a crush, ‘eh?

Mary’s sister, pouty Edith, is getting on my last nerve. Her boyfriend went to Germany to get a divorce from his crazy, institutionalized wife and has not been seen since. After their one night romantic interlude, Edith is now with child.

But actually I’m hoping Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes will get together. She’s as patient as he is stubborn. I love his baritone voice and watching his staff jump to attention when he enters the room.

Another couple we’re all watching curiously is Anna and Bates (staff). They went through many obstacles to live together as man and wife; including a stint in the jail where he was later proven innocent. Things were going along smoothly until one night a guest’s footman grabs Anna in a dark hallway and beats her. We predict the footman may become a headless horseman when Bates gets through with him. Darn. Another jail sentence.

Ann Ipock “Life is Short, I Wish I Was Taller”


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