As the television landscape stands today, there is little time between traditional seasons with original programming . Since the inception of the summer schedule and the mish-mash of structured scheduling ushered in by cable networks (premium and basic) such as AMC, FX, and the quality/quantity juggernaut that is the Home Box Office (HBO), there really is no downtime in a casual television watcher’s yearly schedule.
The British, on the other hand have a system that for the most part follows as such: Schedule a show on a limited run and then release a Christmas Special at the end of the year. This is a practice that American programmers could take note of and follow accordingly. Nonetheless, our common language brethren from across the pond have given us some wonderful television that not only satisfies their (higher) taste, but in turn, our own.
Since 2001, when American television critics really started to take notice with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s office dramedy cleverly entitled, The Office, British television has been on the radar of everyone that has a passion for the medium. Some shows get more praise than they are worth (Life Is Short) and others not as much as they deserve (Spaced). But overall, I’m glad that we are taking notice of a country that gave us classics such as Flying Circus and Faulty Towers.
Last year, the BBC, paired with the always-solid Masterpiece Theater, produced a cinematic, upstairs/downstairs series entitled Downton Abbey. It was the British counterpart to the Mad Men’s and Boardwalk Empires‘s of American television. Downton is a beautiful, high-production quality, lush period piece with an incredible cast that depicts everyday life for a range of different social classes. Initially, the series started out incredibly strong, almost making this cold heart of stone tear up in its opening hour. However, since then, it has taken an incredibly melodramatic turn.
Showrunner Julian Fellows quickly squandered the captivating story of downstairs footman Mr. Bates, whose challenging status as “the new guy with a disability” that made me do a “who the fuck is this incredible actor imdb.com search” within the first twenty minutes of hour one, and his transformation to an ongoing “really, another fucking scene with Bates and that slag tooth boring fucking whore that he is in love with…can I blow my fucking brains out now?”, was the show’s heart in its initial run. I could watch Bates for an hour holding the throat of secondary footman Thomas while simultaneously finger fucking a random housemaid (Don Draper style) for hours. Why does a love story have to be at the forefront of every conflict of this show?
The show really jumped the proverbial shark in series two when they did what I thought they should never do: marry off an uppy (upstairs person) with a downy (the “help” for Christ’s sake). No goddamn restraint people. Let me say what we all think as consumers of “low art.” Drama can be really boring at times. Especially manufactured drama. There is no reason to combine the two worlds. Watching a show with a somewhat realistic view of life in the 1910’s was a breath of fresh air at first. Somewhere along the line the writers lost touch with what we really loved about the program. They had to create tension where there was no need for it. There is no reason to show every aspect of British life within in a six-hour block of television that is focused on a very specific part of society in a very specific time period. I don’t need for a writer to inform me that yes, people do, in fact, have miscarriages and suffer gunshots that paralyze them then miraculously walk six months later, die from the Spanish Flu, get put on trial for murder, get fingers shot off, have affairs with Turkish princes that die mysteriously in guest rooms, and other incredibly stupid shit that will inevitably happen during series three.
Will I watch that? Yes. Am I anxious for that time to come some time next year? Not really. I will encounter the new episodes of the drama that draw the life and times of the inhabitants of Downton as I do a new episode of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives: with a “huh” rather than a “Hey!”