In company with millions of others, I've recently become addicted to the Downton Abbey series. For me, the appeal is mostly visual; the magnificent Highclere Castle, the antique cars, the costumes. Then there's Maggie Smith; I'd happily tune in to listen to her read the tax code in that haughty voice.
I get a kick out of the scenes of Lord Grantham being dressed and undressed by his various valets. In my real life, all the men I know well are academics; basically, we're lucky if they remember to get dressed at all. Perhaps as a result, I have long been fascinated by all the bits and pieces of men's formal wear. They take off the jacket, and there's a vest (the Brits call it a "waistcoat" — keep up, already!) and those funny garters on the sleeves, then they take off the vest and there's suspenders ("braces") underneath; it's a fascinating package enclosing the rather yummy Hugh Bonneville.
The dialogue can be fun, especially Maggie Smith's lines, and the occasional telling remark from other members of the cast, for instance, Lady Grantham's observation: "You think raising daughters will be like "Little Women", but they're at each other's throats from dawn to dusk." I liked this moment with the obligatory more-snobby-than-the-toffs butler, Carson:
Lord Grantham (talking about his previous chauffeur): "And to think Taylor's gone off to run a tea shop! I cannot feel it will make for a very restful retirement, can you?"Downton Abbey is replete with strange, cold-fish romances. I realize it's a British production, but couldn't they have scraped up a little passion somewhere? Even the stunning youngest daughter, Sibyl, generates no apparent heat with the man she will eventually marry. (As someone wrote on an imdb board, "if you're going to run off with the help, shouldn't it be at least a little bit sexy?") Either this plotline was badly written and directed, or possibly it's telegraphing that Sibyl was only interested in Branson as her ticket out of Downton Abbey, and she'll become disillusioned with him over time. We'll see.
Carson: "I would rather be put to death, my lord."
Lord Grantham: " ... quite so."
The central romance of Matthew and Mary got spun out way too long and got snagged on too many ridiculous scruples ("but I might conceivably offend the memory of my now-dead fiancée!") I find Mary completely unsympathetic, and I can't get too interested in Matthew. They've got some terrible lines to say, for instance when Mary confesses her episode with the Turkish diplomat:
Mary: "I'm Tess of the D'urbervilles to your Angel Clare, I have fallen, I am impure!"(What was Julian Fellowes smoking when he wrote this crap?)
Matthew: "Don't joke, don't make it little, not when I'm trying to understand."
Mary: "Thank you for that."
The most successful romance, for me, is Edith with Sir Anthony Strallen. They seem genuinely fond of each other, which is more than I can say for Matthew and Mary or Sibyl and Branson. I find Sir Anthony likeable (not "dull as paint", as Lord Grantham claims) and his goofy, manic smile charming. He's old for Edith, and now he's lost the use of one arm, but there weren't a lot of marriageable men left after the Great War. I predict these two will be married by the end of Season 3 (you heard it here first!).
I liked Bates at first, but his continual martyrdom became tiresome ("excuse me while I interrupt the obvious arc of the plot in order to tie myself naked to a tree and get shot full of arrows!") Who murdered his wife? My money's on Sir Richard Carlisle.
Readers, have you been watching Downton Abbey, or am I alone in this? Any thoughts?