Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Downton Abbey

Season 3
The Earl of Grantham finds himself being left behind in the postwar world as control of a poorly managed Downton is subtly rested from his hands by Matthew and his other rebellious son-in-law returns to the estate a fugitive from the law with his very pregnant wife in tow.  A doggedly determined Anna struggles tirelessly to spring the wrongly accused Bates from the pokey, the usual members of the staff are up to their old tricks while a few more are introduced, and the Dowager Countess is given a run for her money when her daughter-in-laws mother pays a visit from America. Continuing the trend which was evident in season two, moves full force into unashamed, almost unwatchable melodrama, relieving itself almost entirely of any goodwill it had attained up to this point. Shameless plotting, irksome acting, horrid writing, boring new characters, and a surprising disappointing guest appearance from Shirley MacLaine are just a few of the general lowpoints on a season where nothing works. "Downton Abbey" is a prime example of what is wrong with television today: stories have beginnings, middles, and ends and most TV execs don't realize that. This series should have been treated like a mini series (which I believe it was initially intended to be) and cut off after the first go round.
* 1/2

Season 2
(spoilers herein)
As the Great War shakes up the caste system, the residents of Downton Abbey's lives are thrown into disarray as a betrothed Mary yearns for the return of Matthew, Lady Sybil takes up the practice of nursing and with the inflammatory chauffeur, and Anna deals with Bates' preposterous conscious. The second season of "Downton Abbey" is quite a letdown compared the marvelous inaugural one. Where the first felt fresh and garnering genuinely earned emotions, here it feels silly and recycled and in often cases shameless, including such instances as a deathbed wedding, a miraculous paralysis recovery, and the deadly Spanish flu carrying off only an inconvenient cast member. It also seems the effects of World War I, devastatingly felt across the continent, barely impacted the characters in this series (which could quite possibly be the point). Also, storylines keep going in circles (the Bates one is ludicrous and becoming insufferable). And still, after that harping, the show does retain much of its charm with not everything totally lost (Maggie Smith is a wonder) and is likely to keep on delighting the less discriminating viewer.

Season 1
The Earl of Grantham, the head of the prestigious English manor home of Downton Abbey, has just received the tragic news that his heir to the estate and his son have perished on the recently sunken Titanic. Now, having three daughters and no sons, the benevolent Earl and his American wife must find a suitor for their eldest and stubborn daughter Mary before their title and fortune passes on to someone else. Meanwhile the passing over of a malevolent footman for a coveted valet's job which was given to the Earl's lame Boer War soldiering mate is the impetus for drama, nastiness, and romance in the servant's quarters. As war approaches and their safe world is continually changing, the members of Downton Abbey struggle to hold on to their way of life, while some pursue their long thought impossible dreams. "Downton Abbey" is a magnificent series originally produced for the BBC and impeccably crafted by creator Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for writing Robert Altman's "Gosford Park". Fellowes draws you in with his beautiful photography and sumptuous score by John Lunn, and creates multi-dimensional, sympathetic characters whom you never can seem to quite peg down (except maybe for the sinister footman Thomas). The performers are all wonderful, and this is the type of series where different characters would appeal to all kinds of people. For me, I really admired Hugh Bonneville as the Earl, trying to be decent while simultaneously maintaining tradition and order. Or Joanne Froggatt as an angelic maid or Siobhan Finneran as a not so angelic servant, though not entirely unsympathetic. And of course Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess who plays the role that, well, only Maggie Smith could play. Sometimes you can see where the story's headed and sometimes the writing is a little too convenient ("well I know a butler in Leeds who knew a valet who worked for a count who saw so and so, etc. etc."), but regardless, I don't remember ever being so involved and moved by a series before.