Review: Downtown Abbey

by Michael Gallenberger

One of the biggest shows currently on television is Downton Abbey, and I would venture to say that it’s my favorite scripted show. I think the reason for this is its ability to consistently raise the level of drama to the point of being ridiculous, but not so much so that the viewer won’t come back for more.

At this point, I should probably explain the basics of the show. Downton Abbey tells the story of an aristocratic British family and their servants in the early part of the twentieth century. Together, they deal with the major events of the time, such as the sinking of the Titanic, the outbreak of World War I, and the Spanish Flu epidemic. At the same time, they must also face more personal challenges, such as the financial difficulties associated with running a large household. After finding success in the U.K. on the ITV network, it now also airs as part of the Masterpiece series on PBS.

For fans of British TV drama, this description could also apply to Upstairs, Downstairs, which followed largely the same formula in the 1970s. The similarities between the shows can be glaring, especially in Downton Abbey‘s first two seasons. The good news is that the program is beginning to show some originality, with plots more distant from those seen inUpstairs, Downstairs. The bad news is that the storylines are getting less believable in the process.

Here’s an example: My favorite part of Downton Abbey is the suspense of trying to figure out who’s going to be killed off next. Characters die so frequently that if any of them experience any form of happiness, the viewer should just assume someone close to them is going to die. This obviously results in a large number of dead characters. So what happens when the plot needs to move in a different direction but still involves the dead character? Letters suddenly appear from characters beyond the grave, letters that were apparently written in secrecy that conveniently fix plot holes and allow the story to move in a different direction. This makes me think that characters are killed off before the implications of their deaths on the rest of the story are fully realized.

Overall though, this is definitely a show worth checking out. Don’t take the show too seriously, but also don’t be surprised if you become hooked on the plot. After all, the fun is in discovering just how much misfortune and suffering you can stand while still being engrossed in the story.

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