The Thing With "Downton Abbey"

Friday, January 20, 2012

June Thomas, culture critic for Slate and host of the new Slate podcast The Afterword, discusses why "Downton Abbey" is so popular.


June Thomas

Comments [29]

Marianne Billington from Tempe Arizona

Saw one episode of Downton Abbey: the third re-run of Upstairs/Downstairs. Boring! Russian TV is much, much better! Classics like Dostoevsky's "Idiot," but most fun is "Master and Margarita," (set in the 30s) where the class structure is supposed to approach equality, but clearly doesn't. The results of the Devil come to Moscow to take a look are hilarious, while scenes from the crucifixion (also canny Roman/Israeli politics) make Mel Gibson's version seem even nastier. And then there is the nearly naked pagan celebration, and Satan's ball. A TV series you can enjoy over and over

Dec. 05 2013 11:17 AM
David from Flushing

While I have enjoyed Downton Abbey and other British dramas, I have become disappointed that the tempo of events has increased to a ridiculous pace. It seems we all have Attention Deficit Disorder compared to the audiences of earlier years. This is particularly annoying in mystery programs where one enjoys some plot development.

Feb. 17 2013 03:05 PM
lafou from nyc

I got hooked on this show immediately, probably due to the music. PBS aired the entire 1st season in one day recently - it's hard to follow the plot lines without starting from the 1st episode. I love that head cook!

Jan. 20 2012 04:03 PM
Natalie from Brooklyn

I admit I am addicted to Downton Abbey, though a little less so by the new season. I appreciate the history and the wonderful British actors, who are able to bring specificity to the characters they play. I compare the upstairs crowd to our own "one percenters", much to America's disadvantage. I do believe that the Granthams may not be entirely representative even in England but at least they are an ideal and do signify an ability to change in a new world. Ony two more days to the next installment - hooray!

Jan. 20 2012 01:11 PM
Tom from uws

Sorry - that should have been addressed to Sylvia rather than to Peggy.

Jan. 20 2012 12:20 PM
Tom from uws

Peggy, we don't think this is England any more than we thought "Dallas" was America! (Although ... some parts of both portraits contain some recognizable features.)

Jan. 20 2012 12:19 PM
Sylvia Mendel from New York, Manhattan

Only two comments above noted the other worldly nature of the class system - here depicted are only the uppers.
Julian Fellowes writes of a class familiar to him and he does it well. I just wish one could see a series of another reality. Those whose lives were determined by not even being able to envision another life than abject poverty. And no one in that class - including me - ever thought of going to college. It was so far removed from possibility the only escape was immigration. After the war all my family immigrated and had there been opportunited for us to even make the 3rd rung of the ladder we would not have to make such a drastic step. I love it but deplore that so many Americans think this is England.

Jan. 20 2012 12:08 PM
Peggy from Sayville,NY

I grew up on the Gold Coast on an estate, Downton Abbey is a very British view of life on Long Island. Class distinction was very stratified on the estate, more so than the general community or town. I was isolated in many ways from the town folk.

Jan. 20 2012 12:07 PM
MP from Brooklyn

I have to say, though, I am surprised that there has not been more of an outcry from LGBT viewers at the character of Thomas, yet ANOTHER sinister closeted gay character. Not my favorite aspect of the show.

Jan. 20 2012 12:03 PM

PS: Most British actors grew up in love with Doctor Who. So any chance to actually be ON it now, in adulthood, is snatched up with relish. So we get the greatest Brit actors on DW, but we in the US don't know them, so for us, they are just the characters they play.

And they are wonderful.

It is no downgrade whatsoever to go from DW to DA.

(I'm talking about the post-2005 reinvention of DW, especially the David Tennant years; I too just don't get the earlier DWs.)

Jan. 20 2012 12:02 PM
MP from Brooklyn

I have to disagree with your guest's last comment. I don't know about most viewers, but I'm not rooting for the 1 percent. I love the clothes and the bon mots of the folks upstairs, but as with its illustrious predecessor "Upstairs, Downstairs," the most interesting stories that inspire the deepest sympathy involve the downstairs characters.

Jan. 20 2012 12:01 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I object to the caller's characterization of sci-fi as not "serious." There's plenty of sf that deals w/serious themes, just as well as mainstream programs.

Jan. 20 2012 12:01 PM

I love the show, but you have to remember that Julian Fellows is often an apologist for an awfully unfair and stupid system. It bought him a Lordship. He is good at showing the potential good face of the class system, but how often was it really like this?

Jan. 20 2012 11:57 AM

Basically it's a pastiche of various English novels -- family not able to inherit estate and daughters forced to marry well (Pride & Prejudice); couple kept apart by crazy wife (Jane Eyre); plus elements of Dickens, Trollope and recent TV (Upstairs Downstairs). So it's familiar plus its own unique plot twists. And then there are the visuals -- the great house, costumes, and A list actors (Maggie Smith). It's diverting and compelling -- great fun! Also fun -- the new take on Sherlock Holmes that will also return this season. Can't wait!

Jan. 20 2012 11:57 AM

Re: actors between "Doctor Who" and "Downton Abbey"

W is no slouch, or simple sci-fi: DW is the BBC's Flagship series, and has won more serious British-Emmy awards than any other program. It has little or no relationship to the drekky Sci-Fi channel.

Jan. 20 2012 11:57 AM

The tone of this segment has the usual tinge of damning with faint praise that the media all too often seems to attach to public television productions -- amazement that people are watching anything on Channel 13 -- ignoring the obvious: that millions of us love almost everything from BBC on Masterpiece Theater and Mystery because nearly all the productions are outstanding. DA is just even yummier [and now, longer, since we never quite get enough] than most. And no commercials to fast-forward through!

Jan. 20 2012 11:56 AM
Emma from Brooklyn

My whole family is obsessed with Downton and watch it religiously. Downton dates are set in stone and we follow the lives of the upstairs and downstairs crews with delight. Several members of my family actually gave each other Downton themed gifts this Christmas. It's a wonderful thing for both generations to do together.

Jan. 20 2012 11:55 AM
Jim from NJ

People watch because it's like "Roots" for caucasians. ;)

Jan. 20 2012 11:55 AM
David from Queens

Downton Abbey premiered shortly after the disappointing revival of Upstairs, Downstairs ran on Masterpiece. So it looks even better by contrast. I think despite its formula there are startling moments in every episode.

Jan. 20 2012 11:55 AM
Sandra from Montvale

I was actually delighted to see the "Rose contest" - in part 1. The obvious reference to the "Mrs. Miniver" scene starring Greer Garson and Walter Pigeon was so much fun.

Jan. 20 2012 11:55 AM

I fell in love with this show when I was pregnant in my first trimester suffering with extreme nausea. This show was something I could handle - nothing too jolting or ridiculous - but yet it had something I could sink my teeth into. Outstanding acting! Perfection in the production quality! An amazing mix of accurate history with the calm and not over-dramatized plot points. Witty without being obnoxious to the audience. A unique look at the upper class and the curious and gripping behind the scenes ins and outs of the house staff. Finally! A terrific show that's reality without being a REALITY show!

Jan. 20 2012 11:54 AM
Nick from UWS

Mr Carson is the BUTLER, Brian. Not the "head house manager." The BUTLER. That's what a butler was. Remember that word?

Jan. 20 2012 11:53 AM
Henry from Katonah

I have not seen the show. Simon Schama wrote his take on it in a recent Newsweek issue.

Jan. 20 2012 11:49 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

I watched it until the "Rose contest" - in part 1. This was copied virtually word for word from "Mrs. Miniver" (occasionally on TCM) staring Greer Garson and Walter Pigeon, winner of 1940 (41?) Academy Award.

I was outraged (to put it mildly)!! ;-)

Jan. 20 2012 11:48 AM
Morningside Heights

I have to admit, not proud, my only interest in SOPA and PIPA was my concern that I wouldn't be able to illegally download Season 3 of Downton Abbey in Fall 2012....

Jan. 20 2012 11:48 AM
Sandra from Montvale

Even the music gets my heart pumping!

Jan. 20 2012 11:45 AM
Tom from uws

Terrific acting. Lively plot lines. Funny. Provocative.

Lots of attractive new, young actors And Maggie Smith.

Jan. 20 2012 11:45 AM
carolita from nyc

There's no better way to avoid dealing with reality than to become nostalgic and engrossed in an expired reality. I still remember Upstairs, Downstairs, how interesting it was to get worked up about how hard women's lives were -- as if there were nothing wrong with the state of things anymore in the present!

Jan. 20 2012 11:44 AM
Lloyd from Manhattan

Downton Abbey has it all. Juicy plot lines. Fabulous locations. Great costumes. Delicious gay angles. Wonderful performances -- especially the peerless Dame Maggie Smith.

Jan. 20 2012 11:33 AM

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