What's so great about Downton Abbey?
I'm paranoid about being a marketing victim. I always try to pay attention to why I'm buying something. Is it just because I was told I needed it? Is it just another Pet Rock?
But I get suckered like everyone else. Why did I pay $130 for sneakers? Because they're really comfortable. But they really aren't that comfortable. I paid $130 for those sneakers because somebody — usually somebody I know who in turn had been successfully marketed by somebody else — told me they were really comfortable. Or they were really good for my feet or my posture. Or something else that poked at the mass of insecurity that we all carry beneath our flesh.
We buy many things simply because we were successfully marketed. That makes the world go around. It would screech to a halt if we bought only things that were absolutely necessary for survival.
We also continue to buy things because sometimes a product really is as good as advertised. That's how I feel about the iPhone. March Madness. Pirate's Booty. And that's how I feel about Downton Abbey, the smash PBS series about a fictitious Yorkshire county estate in the early 1900s.
Because of my skeptical nature, I was a latecomer to the show. It looked like any other PBS British period drama with butlers and an introductory trumpet diddy. The hysteria and overheated reviews didn't help. Blah blah blah. Downton Abbey this and Downton Abbey that. The psychoanalysis, like this:
Once again, this week's episode of Downton Abbey is full of powerful insights about life, love and human nature. ... Death is such a painful and taboo topic, and Sunday night's episode demonstrates the extent to which people tend to grieve differently and to process the death blah blah blah
Blech. That's not how I wanted to end my weekend. I want a cheesy poof. The World's Strongest Man.
As I always do, somewhere along the line I buckled under the pressure and ordered Season One. That was when I inhaled the smoke of the delicious Downton Abbey crack that so many pushers had been trying to sell me.
Downton Abbey is excellent because, like most well-told stories, it grabs you by the neck and pulls you into an entirely different world. Actually, there are many worlds. There's the world of the British aristocracy in the early 1900s, which as far as I can tell serves no real purpose other than just to exist. Nobody has a real job. The main occupation of the Earl of Grantham, for instance, seems to be reading the newspaper, complaining about his daughters' fiances, and eating massive dinners.
And yet you come to sympathize with the entire pampered lot because they have struggles and triumphs, imperfections and warts, just like you and me. They just dress a lot better. And you begin to appreciate the challenges of living their suffocating, dull existences. The Earl may have a cushy life, but it seems he's living that life not because he enjoys it but because he feels he has a patriotic duty to do so.
Probably even more endearing, though, is the world of the servants downstairs, which is every bit as rigid and structured as the aristocracy's. It's fascinating to see how the servants' hierarchy works. The head butler is superior to the valets who are superior to the footmen. It's as regimented as military rank. It's also fascinating to see how dedicated they are to tending to the aristocracy's every need.
You get sucked into studying the strange habits of these worlds, like a really good National Geographic documentary. When their masters enters the downstairs kitchen, the servants bolt up from their meals like guards standing at attention. The valets help grown men dress for dinner every night.
All those details come wrapped in a beautiful package. The writing, the rooms, the clothes, the grounds, the cars, the music, the editing — they make it stand out from most shows.
Downton Abbey is as good as advertised because things are constantly happening. There doesn't seem to be a shot or a word wasted. The writers never underestimate their viewers' intelligence. I have to focus on every single word and glance. I'm constantly having to rewind. There are about 50 stories going on at any time, almost all of them juicy. It's a lot to absorb. I still don't know most of the characters' names. But I still understand what's going on, more or less. There's never a dull moment. That's why it's a great show.
Downton Abbey is full of powerful insights about life, love, and human .... See? It makes a pusher out of you.