Saturday, January 07, 2012

Downton Abbey, Season 1

I'm late to the party here, but still early enough to catch the premier of Season 2 tomorrow night.  As a devout NPR listener, I'm equally devoted to PBS whenever it comes to television.  For the last several weeks, a certain commercial kept playing, showcasing a series on Masterpiece called Downton Abbey.  "This looks like something you'd like," I told Keisha, and she agreed, and that was that.  But, as it goes, it wasn't, and over the course of time, I continued to hear more and more of this show.  Capping it off was an interview on NPR's Here and Now with a critic who was lauding praises.  They played a clip, it sounded intriguing, and I decided I wanted to watch it, too.  Turns out that it was available on Netflix, and over a Friday night Saturday morning binge, Keisha and I watched the whole first season.  

Downton Abbey is an early 20th century drama, featuring an incredibly talented cast, remarkable writing, beautiful set pieces, and a perfect score.  The season begins with the sinking of the Titanic, where the heir to Downton Abbey perished, along with his family.  This left the Earl of Grantham and Lord of the estate, Robert Crawley, in a predicament, as his only children are all girls.  At the time, entailment still existed, and so the girls could not inherit.  The remainder of the season deals with finding a suitor for Mary, the eldest daughter.

Simultaneously, the audience is given insight to the running of the estate and the considerable staff required to provide for the gentry.  The ins-and-outs of the staff--a butler, a housekeeper, the Lord's valet, the Lady's maid, two footmen, three housemaids, and two kitchen staff--are the heart and soul of the show.  Every character is important to the plot, filled with a backstory, and integral to the excitement and intrigue of Downton Abbey.  Take Mr. Bates, for example.  He is arguably my favorite character, and his handicap and unwillingness to reveal much of his past propels the plot, as well as the plotting of two eager staff-people.  These two, Thomas the first footman and Misses O'Brien, are possibly the most detestable villains of any show I've watched in recent memory.

I do not intend to slight the nobles.  On the contrary, as I very much enjoy the various plots concerning the staff, I also very much enjoy the plots concerning the Crawley family.  Mary's quest for love/marriage is center here, and while I'm not much on gooey gooey stuff and lots of romance, the writers handled Mary very well.  She was a character that I both liked and dislike, and that's a good thing.  I also must give credit to the wonderful Maggie Smith a la the Dowager Countess and Robert's mother.  She is wonderfully witty and a hoot when pinned against other characters.  She provides a heavy moodiness to any situation she is in, and yet she's funny, especially when remarking on the modern technologies (swivel chairs and telephones to name two).

Honestly, I was surprised at how quickly I was caught up in the story.  Generally this kind of stuff is more up Keisha's alley.  Nevertheless, I was extremely impressed with everything about this show.  It never dipped into ridiculousness, nor did it stray too far from the many themes it makes.  Each actor is perfectly suited to their role, and each performs well above the norm.  

I look forward to starting season two tomorrow night and getting back into the affairs of Downton Abbey.  Truly, I'm eager to find out more about these people I've grown attached to and to see how much life will change in the coming years.  If you've not watched this show, I cannot recommend it enough.  It's available to watch online for free on PBS (here), as well as Netflix instant streaming.


ibeeeg said...

I have been seeing the tv ads and have found myself very interested. I tend to like this kind of stuff. I thought that maybe Netflix would have it but did not check. Thanks for checking for me. ;). I will have to dvr season two so that I can catch up.

Side note: Netflix is greatly annoying me. For the plan we have (streaming plus 1 DVD) they will only allow streaming on one device at a time... No concurrent viewing. Frustrated I am as I live in a home of 8 with several devices. I am starting to search out other options.

Sarah Bible said...

I've been hearing good things about this show. Your review has finally convinced me to watch it. But it'll have to wait until I've finished watching Doctor Who. I can only handle one awesome show at a time.

Carl V. said...

You aren't the only one late, we haven't yet arrived. Which surprises me because generally my wife and I love this kind of stuff. I'm sure we'll catch up with it at some point. The cast looks phenomenal and I keep hearing great things from such a diverse group of people that it has to be a cast miss.

logankstewart said...

@ibeeeg: Ha, I didn't even think about checking Netflix, but Keisha thankfully did. Sorry about the Netflix annoyance. Once a great company, now, it's undecided.

@Sarah: Ooh, good. I hope you like it as much as we did.

@Carl: Phenomenal they are. Each actor performs marvelously.

Kristopher A. Denby said...

I don't watch TV, but I found this on Netflix maybe a month or two ago and added it to my queue. I've haven't watched it yet, but I've always intended to. After reading your review, I can almost guarantee it will be playing on a TV near me very soon.

The Sound and Fury of Kristopher Denby

logankstewart said...

@Kris: Capital idea, man. We gobbled up the first season like crack.