thumbs down: downton abbey

am i the only one who doesn't like downton abbey?

admittedly, i've only seen the first three episodes. maybe something amazing happens, the writing gets better, the characters become interesting. i know it is a soap opera, not "high art" in any sense of the phrase, so perhaps my expectations were simply too high.

it is interesting, however, as an object lesson in the brits' fascination with class, their love-hate relationship with the underpinnings of their culture, half self-congratulating, half self-flagellating. the earl of grantham is a greedy snob who married only for money. but he's a likable chap who did the right thing by falling in love with his rich wife after a while. he's helping the poor by giving them a job polishing his cufflinks. what a lovely man. or not.

the entire premise is one peer's excuses masquerading as apologia.

it's also interesting to see how the show panders to modern sensibilities. i was marvelling at how downton presented the hunt with such glorious imagery, considering the protests which have met the hunt in recent years, when lord grantham (the nice earl! look how nice he is to his valet!) mentioned the family that doesn't tolerate hunting on their grounds. hat tip, 21st century values.

the writers are apparently aware of how unrealistic much of the dialogue is, in that they occasionally call themselves out in the script. it's a classic, over-used technique - you can't accuse me of fill-in-the-blank if i accuse myself first! well, actually yes you can be accused of phony dialogue when his lordship et famille sit down to the dinner table to discuss a chambermaid's purchase of a typewriter. it simply would not have happened in 1912. and having the dowager countess point out the incongruity doesn't excuse it. their words sound wrong, and their voices sound wrong. the whole show rings so false i sprained a muscle rolling my eyes.

it is pretty to look at, though. the lovely decor and dresses and gardens are simply wonderful, although they do of course fall prey to the impulse to modernise a few things to match contemporary fashions (the eyebrows, the young turk's flowing hair). if i watch another episode, it will be with the sound off. while re-reading hoare's biography of stephen tennant.

i think part of the problem is having watched it too soon after watching brideshead revisited, a much more accurate and affecting piece of television, even thirty years later. julian fellowes is no evelyn waugh.

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