This winter break I got my wisdom teeth out, giving me an excuse to embark on a four day Netflix Instant binge.
Succumbing to my sister’s persistent nagging, I decided to try out the newest buzzworthy series du jour, Downton Abbey.
With the help of a steady dose of Lortab, I was transported to 1914 England, where the stately Earl of Grantham and the entire Crawley family sustained a crisis of succession when the two closest heirs died in the catastrophe of the Titanic. Due to England’s law of male primogeniture, the Downton estate and the family title was to go to an unknown third cousin who was a (gasp!) bourgeois lawyer. So a ten minute scene about a fictitious aristocratic succession not really striking your fancy? Well I didn’t think it would for me either, but I was hooked. And it turns out, it wasn't just the meds, because I’m not alone.
Filmed in the real life Highclere Castle, Downton Abbey has turned out to be the best British import since Wallace & Gromit or beans on toast (okay, so no one actually eats that here). Maybe not yet deserving of a place in the TV pantheon alongside The Wire and Seinfeld, Downton has been racking up the accolades nevertheless. Scoring a bevy of Primetime Emmy and Golden Globe nods and wins, Downton Abbey entered the Guinness Book of World Records 2011 as the “most critically acclaimed English-language television show” of the year. So isn’t it high time to see what the fuss is all about?
While it can tend to err on the schmaltzy side, and has been criticized for being nothing more than a glorified soap opera, Downton Abbey’s plot is rooted in history, touching on the Titanic, World War I, Spanish Flu epidemic, women’s suffrage, and the Irish Republican Army. The premier of the second season throws the viewer into the trenches at the Somme, as Downton evolves into an epic war drama. However, one may even draw present day parallels. The rigid, classist society of Downton depicts income inequality to the nth degree (albeit in a flowery depiction).
Between breathtaking landscape shots of provincial England and stylized, overexposed scenes of the castle’s lavish interior,the viewer is treated to an omniscient view of all of Downton’s goings-on. A host of characters navigate the seemingly infinite dark corners of Downton, from the lowly kitchen maid Daisy to the high and mighty Lady Mary, to the deliciously sinister plotters Lady Maid O’Brien and Thomas the Footman. Did I mention Maggie Smith plays the Dowager Countess of Grantham? C’mon, you really can’t go wrong.
Catch the entire first season on Netflix Instant and new episodes every Sunday night on PBS Masterpiece Classic. You can countdown until the next episode with me here.