Downton Abbey (2010)
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Season 1: Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes' TV answer to Gosford Park, is soap opera, veering on melodrama, I'll grant you that, but it's a very well written and produced example of such, and deserves the acclaim it's gotten. Taking place in the 1910s, it chronicles an aristocratic family blessed only with daughters' attempts to deal with a rather working-class heir in the wake of losing those rightfully in line to inherit the estate in the Titanic disaster. Being cut from the same cloth as Gosford Park, it's also about the house's servants, where we find both the show's moral center and its nastiest villains. It's not all drama, there's comedy too, often thanks to the power struggle between the great ladies of the manor played by Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton. I'm not sure what to think of the show's timeline, which covers several years over the course of 7 episodes, because it means the subplots must be moving at a very slow pace (the characters' ages too, though that's not a problem with Season 1). I can't decide if it's odd because it doesn't follow television rules, or if it's actually more realistic this way (especially at a time when communications and travel were slower). What it does do is use history to its best possible advantage, having current events impact the world of Downton (something that reaches a certain crescendo in Season 2). Either way, I'm hooked.
Season 2: Season 2 covers the World War I years, history having its way with Downton Abbey and its inhabitants. The 8 episodes are all 5 minutes longer, and the DVD also includes the Christmas special (also sold separately, so completist beware), all the better to tell the many stories of the show's large cast. The first season's villains struggle for redemption, but new villains do show up and they may be even nastier, while some of the "heroes" may fall from grace. There are two things that motivate a piece like this - will they/won't they relationships, and the notion that no one has the right to be happy. If you care for the characters, and I think it's easy to by this point, this is compelling no matter how manipulative those elements are. The specter of war makes this a gloomier season than the first, but excellent research coupled with good writing and complex characters keeps things going very nicely.
Season 3: Returning to Downton Abbey some years after the first two seasons impressed me, I found Season 3 a little lacking. The characters and scripting are still great, and cover up the problems reasonably well, but the plots mostly undo themselves through luck and coincidence. I was quickly turned off by the clichéd "we have to save the Abbey" story that took up the first third, though it's really part of the show's ongoing concern about the transition between aristocratic tradition and the modern world. Not to say the show entirely spins its wheels - they do lose characters permanently - but Season 3 doesn't feel as well moored to history as the previous two and makes it all seem soapier for it.
Season 4: Season 4 of Downton Abbey is a stronger piece, at the heart of which is a harrowing event for one of the more likable characters on the show. I cannot deny it, it unnerved me, as did the way the suplot unfolded across the season (and continued to do so in Season 5, I know that much). I'm less interested in the romances of the upstairs as "below stairs" continues to have the more interesting schemes and more likeable characters (though perhaps I'm just a below stairs person). I must say I'm enjoying the perpetual humiliation of Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), whose role has been more developed for losing his basic function, and while I'm admitting things: How much of a treasure is Penelope Wilton? Yes, yes, Maggie Smith is great, but my heart can't help but go to Wilton in everything she's in.
Season 5: Downtown Abbey's fifth season concentrates on developing its characters more than some big plot, and when you've got this kind of ensemble cast, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Still tracking the changing world of the 20s, the upstairs and downstairs must navigate new realities and new opportunities, the big estates a world going extinct. The mark of a good character drama, I think, is when villains can become heroes, and heroes villains. At this point, does ANYONE still like Lady Mary? I'm having trouble remembering her as the romantic heroine you rooted for in the first two seasons. Meanwhile, Edith and Barrow have become sympathetic figures! But yeah, keep me downstairs so I can steer clear of Mary.
Season 6: Season 6 of Downton Abbey is the final one, and I'm sort of disappointed it didn't try to play a lot more on the theme of transition the series had been chronicling for half a dozen years. Instead, the season essentially continues the subplots from Season 5 (including the decline or elevation of certain characters), and tries to find an ending for each and every one that will satisfy the crowd who was mostly watching for the Mary-Matthew romance originally. So the soap opera is catered to, but History and what writer Julian Fellowes seemed most interested in, isn't really. The less said about the boring hospital management plot the better. So it's all a bit fairy tale at the end, which seems silly.
I have to wait till January? Oh god... This was so awesome =D
very good series, love to see season three
to see which of your friends have seen this movie!