February 2013 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Way to go, Downton Abbey. Your show’s been staggering around on crutches since Matthew stood up from his wheelchair, and you blithely kick them away. This has not gone over well with either viewers or critics, quelle freakin’ surprise. The best analysis I’ve read (I’ve lost the source, sorry) is that the writers, having trod the well-worn path forged by Jane Austen, et al., had reached the point where Austen and the gang usually stopped, i.e., the happy ending/wedding.

But Fellowes & Co. forged bravely on, realizing too late they hadn’t a clue as to a proper plot beyond thwarted love, and wound up wandering in circles, spinning ludicrous subplots that went nowhere, and sporadically killing people. Literally in circles. Seriously, that’s the third maid canned for inappropriate romantic behavior, Daisy has unwanted suitors stacked up like incoming flights at LaGuardia, and why can’t poor Lady Edith get a boyfriend who isn’t a simpering wooden weirdo on wheels? (“Yes, you’re right, I am actually married … but my wife is in an asylum because she watched this show.”)

And now they’ve done away with arguably the most appealing character (Lady Sybil) and Matthew, who Slate dubbed “the Magical Middle-Class Guy,” the audience proxy and primary pivot in the arc of the show. Well done, chaps. That leaves Daisy the dramatic elbow room she’s always lacked, and the path is greased for another chapter in the treacle-sodden adventures of Bates and Anna. Perhaps they can open a Thomas Kincaide poster shop in town. But hey, no harm, no foul. Most of the audience probably shows up primarily to admire the furnishings and fantasize about how nice they’d be to their servants, so the fewer yammering actors in the way, the better. Not for nothing is PBS selling replica tiaras.

Yes, I know that Jessica Brown-Findlay and Dan Stevens, playing Lady Sybil and Matthew Crawley, both declined to renew their contracts. But either Dan Stevens should have been replaced (it is a soap opera, after all, and that’s how soap operas handle such moments), or the entire series should have been rolled up and ended. But is life without Molesly, Little Jimmy, Thomas, et al., really necessary? Bewitched replaced Darrin and went on for another three years. It’s not too late to patch things up for next season. Why not go Full Gonzo and hire Charlie Sheen?

While we wait to see what lies in store for our plucky band, I recommend these two spirited and well done parodies made by the BBC back in 2011: Uptown Downstairs Abbey Part One and Part Two.

Oh well. It occurred to me the other day that if I ever won the lottery I’d probably watch a lot more TV. I see online discussions and I’m amazed that perfectly normal, intelligent people can actually DVR and watch 19 series episodes every week and be devoted fans of shows I’ve never heard of. But when you work at home, you really never leave the office, so there’s always a nagging feeling you should be doing something productive, which makes it difficult to really relax and veg out.

I’m also reluctant to watch any new series because I seem to cast a hex on whatever I decide to like and — bam — it’s immediately cancelled. Carnivale on HBO, The Event on NBC (I think), some weird thing about aliens in Florida a few years ago, and Last Resort on ABC have all fallen prey to my baleful interest. I started watching Law & Order UK on BBC America a while back, and in the third episode I saw they offed a major cast member. Seemed like a warning. Disheartening, to say the least.

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