I've now sometimes zoomed but sometimes plodded through seventeen hours of Downton Abbey. The series is lovely to look at but also at various times lugubrious, false, and shamelessly gimmicky -- but apparently I'm easily seduced. Let me confess: I fell for it, mostly, but always against my better judgment. Let's face it, the primitive parts of my brain simply overwhelmed my higher critical faculties. I laughed and cried, even when I knew that I was being cheated and manipulated.
My favorite parts: Mr. Pamuk and his Nelson Rockefeller departure ("he came, and went)," which took me totally by surprise, as did Anna's and Lady Grantham's resourceful disposal of the corpse. Lady Sybil as a nurse, in part because she was doing useful work for the first time in her pampered life, and in part because she looked so fetching in the uniform. My favorte performers -- Maggie Smith, reprising her role in Gosford Park (a much superior great house fiction), and Mr Carson's eyebrows, perpetually raised in shock at modern shenanigans.
The series is pure, undiluted soap. It is also, as they used to say in Variety, a "costumer." Query -- would I have spent seventeen hourse watching a television program set in a mansion in Dubuque, Iowa, in 2012 in which a soldier returns paralyzed from the wars and miraculously regains his mobility, where terrible culinary disasters occur because the cook almost goes blind, where granny shows her goodwill by losing a flower show, in which the family is traumatized when a daughter runs off with the chauffeur, or where a presumably innocent servant is sentenced to death for the muder of his wayward wife. I don't think so. I would have said, "cornball soap opera" and clicked back to the NBA. Or to the advertisements for zirconite jewelry. And yet I went on. And on. And continued on even after Downton Abbey not only jumped the shark but vaulted the great white whale, Moby Dick himself when it introduced into the plot a bout of supposed amnesia. Amnesia! Is there anything soapier.
Or perhaps my reluctant fascination proves that the traditional formulas retain their power. Here's a formula of comedy: "artificial difficulties overcome." In Downton Abbey, Lady Mary and Matthew are destined for one another, and every viewer knows it, even as artificial difficulties are strewn and heaped in their path. Shakespeare could slice through the impediments in two hours traffic on the stage. But here it's seventeen hours until heir and heiress finally figure it out. And here's another formula of comedy: end it with a feast and a dance. They did, and, sucker that I am, I was elated. Even though I saw the scam coming a mile down the o-so-picturesque road