You’ve probably been hearing a lot about PBS‘ breakaway hit Downton Abbey, the “upstairs/downstairs” saga of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants, all living in the titular country estate. Brought over from the UK, the show has amassed a passionate following thanks to its soapy plots and class intrigue. Season 2 starts up this Sunday, January 8, but it feels a little overwhelming to jump right into it.
That’s where I’m at—my mom, sister, and Hunger Games friends are all obsessed, whereas I just found out that it’s not spelled like “downtown” pronounced in an English accent. So, I’ve got some catching up to do if I want to talk to them about it. Let’s do it together, shall we?
1. It’s more soapy than you’d assume. Part of what kept me from originally tuning in is I’ve never been a big fan of period pieces, assuming that I’ll have absolutely no way of relating to the characters’ problems. You’ll lose your inheritance if you don’t marry a guy? Big whoop. Give me sex and death! Oh wait… Downton Abbey had both of those in one of its racier plots, when (spoiler for American audiences) one of the characters smuggled a diplomat into her bed, where he then died. On top of that, there’s plenty of romantic intrigue and love triangles.
However, it’s definitely high-quality programming; it’s been compared to Gosford Park, which also starred Maggie Smith.
2. Most American fans won’t be surprised on Sunday. One of my friends, an avid fan, wisely advised me that I shouldn’t write this post expecting to be breaking any news—most of the American viewers, he said, have already illegally watched the season 2 episodes online. It premiered in the UK in September 2011, and will officially start up in the States on January 8. So your friends will probably be tuning in, but just for a sharper-quality viewing of the scandals they’ve already seen.
3. It’s big on Tumblr. A quick search reveals that Tumblr users have put the Downton Abbey spin on well-known blogs: There’s Quite So, Downton Abbey (a variation on the “fuck yeah” prefix), Downton Abbey Confessions, Telegraphs from Downton (yes, it’s Texts From Last Night), and so much more.
4. Miss Professor McGonagall? Maggie Smith wins as the “stuffy old crab who’s occasionally progressive” (as my friend describes it), so for all of you Harry Potter fans missing the fearsome professor, this is almost as good as having her back.
5. It hits the ground running. Season 1 starts with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and spans several years, ending with the start of the Great War (what historians will later call World War I). Season 2 runs at a similar pace… so get ready to cover a lot of ground in just sixteen episodes (including the 2011 Christmas special which, according to my sister, was off-the-wall).
See you here on Monday to discuss your new favorite show…