Crack TV: Drum Rolls For Downton Abbey

By Victoria Looseleaf

As our loyal readers know, we recently admitted that the PBS smash, Downton Abbey, is our TV DOC (drug of choice). And now that Season 2, having to do with World War I and its ramifications, has ended – SPOILER ALERT – with Matthew Crawley on his knees in a snow-festooned scene that has him asking for Lady Mary’s hand (not for a waltz, but – tah dah – in marriage), we are elated at this turn of events. We’re also rueful, of course, that DA won’t be returning until Spring 2013, albeit with the great Shirley MacLaine, who promises to help turn the fashions and foibles of the 1920’s into a kind of, well, Occupy Downton Abbey.

All we can say is, “Thank God for On Demand.” (Lately we’ve also been revisiting HBO’s The Wire and will soon check in on Showtime’s Homeland again.) That said, who knew that this costume drama about class and changing times, mores and hemlines, would start a cultural conversation unseen since the likes of – well, you fill in the blanks.

Personally, we weren’t Upstairs Downstairs fans (we were too busy cruising  the world – Ceuta, anyone?), but do find DA every bit as delicious as The Sopranos was, as Boardwalk Empire is, and hope that Luck will be (all from HBO; also from the network, Ricky Gervais‘ new endeavor, Life’s Too Short, about which we’re reserving judgment, but confess we were decidedly unimpressed with Gervais’ wussy showing at the Globes).

But we digress: That the glitterati, of sorts, are having viewing parties (the Daily Beast reported that Patton Oswalt live tweeted during his soirees and Katy Perry – not to our liking, on any count – has been, since her split with Russell Brand, consoling herself with tea and crumpets, or at least tea and whatevers), says something. We’re just not sure what!

Ergo: With DA now a firmly embedded cultural touchstone (we wonder if the Obamas tune in…), it was only a matter of time before SNL had their shot at the series. It’s also no surprise that books have been rushed to print – but DA getting the paper doll treatment? Well, why not! Meanwhile, as blogs buzz with all manner of critics weighing in, we don’t necessarily agree with those arbiters of tastes who declared Season 2 not as fabulous as the show’s inaugural season. “Rot!” we scoff, tossing in our two shillings’ worth.

Indeed, to our way of thinking, never have so many intriguing characters been caught up in so many twists and turns, especially as endured in DA‘s last two, two-hour eps, with the Christmas finale particularly satisfying. We love the drama of Mr. Bates’ having been accused of murder, as his new bride, the housemaid Anna, stands by her man. As for Sir Richard’s smarmy tabloid ways (shades of Rupert Murdoch), will he or won’t he…publish Season 1′s tawdry story having to do with the deflowered Lady Mary and the dead Turk? We say, “Let ‘er rip.”

And what about that miracle from on high (or low – as it was Matthew Crowley’s below-the-waist problem that caused, er, friction with his betrothed, Lavinia)?

Cousin Matthew’s leap from that wheelchair was on a par with Jennifer Jones spotting the Virgin Mary in The Song of Bernadette – or at least Deborah Kerr telling Cary Grant, “If you can paint, I can walk,” whilst disabled on her couch in the final scene of the 1957 cinematic love-fest, An Affair To Remember.

 

And poor bad boy Thomas, throwing his lot in with black marketeers, only to get shafted himself. (His bit with Lord Grantham’s dog, Isis, is nasty, but priceless, and certainly in keeping with the servant’s closeted, noir self.) Yes, the drama keeps unfolding like Irish linens at a state dinner, with love seemingly at the root of it all: Lady Sybil ultimately getting daddy’s approval – almost – to run off and marry the chauffeur Branson; Lord G rooting for daughter Mary even after he learns of the tale of the Turk.

And whose heart didn’t stop during that whole business with the Spanish flu. Crikey! With Lady Cora on her deathbed and Lord G stealing a kiss from housemaid Jane, this was gasp-inducing television, often enhanced by the inclusion of new-fangled devices!  (The phonograph, at left, with Carson and Lady M, while certainly enlivening the proceedings, was also key to Lavinia losing her will to live.) In essence, what we have here is not a failure to communicate, but the rapturous ability to communicate, thanks to Julian Fellowes, who created the series and continues to crank out what is arguably, well, crack TV!

And the cracks just kept coming, from the indomitable, unforgettable, beyond brilliant, 77-year old Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess Violet. To wit, here’s one of the grande dame’s choicer retorts, no matter that it’s from last season: “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?” Hey: She’s got no quarrel with this Yankee!

 

 

About Victoria Looseleaf

Victoria Looseleaf is an award winning arts journalist and regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, KUSC-FM radio, Dance Magazine, Performances Magazine and other outlets. She roams the world covering dance, music, theater, film, food and architecture. Have pen - and iPad - will travel!
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