Downton Abbey is The Emperor’s New Clothes
Downton Abbey is one of those shows that comes along every few years that is universally loved by critics and fans, for no good goddamned reason. Yet Another Kardashian and CSI: Duluth are great examples of America’s propensity to support shows with bad acting, bad writing, and bad directing. At least Downton’s not about warring cupcake store owners or vacuous former sex-tape stars who are famous for being famous.
|just smile, you bastards|
Anyway, why Downton Abbey sucks: I watched the first two seasons of this show, and I kept waiting for something to happen. I kept hoping that this show– that everyone in the entire world I knew was raving about– would actually go somewhere. But vast stretches of time go by where nothing occurs, then all of a sudden, something melodramatic and far-fetched happens which breaks all believability. You usually know it’s about to happen because the pretentious orchestral music gets louder.
There’s a difference between plot and story. Downton has a lot of plot, and not much story.
Let me go deeper in why Downton Abbey sucks: The creators of this show wanted a subtle British costume drama. The problem is that subtle British costume dramas are about as interesting as fishing shows. And they know this, so they try to spice it up by adding intrigue in the form of shouting matches, backstabbing, plot twists, and Maggie Smith*.
The most perfect example of the overwrought, melodramatic-yet-boring plot devices they use is the episode about Mr. Carson and Charles Grigg. Carson and Grigg were actors, before Carson worked as a butler at Downton. Grigg has apparently been blackmailing Carson, because if Carson doesn’t pay up, Grigg will reveal his terrible past of being an actor.
For some reason, this is supposed to create dramatic tension. But it’s not as if they spread this out over several episodes… building up the mystery and conflict. And all of this interesting stuff in the backstory happens off-camera, because Downton Abbey’s job is to be as boring as fuck or explosively melodramatic, and building tension over time would be too much like actual storytelling.
Any beginning screenwriter or aspiring author can tell you that you’re supposed to show and not tell, something that the Downton writers don’t seem to understand. Because Downton Abbey sucks.
Instead, all we get is that one day, Grigg shows up, demanding to speak to the Earl of Downton. We’ve never seen Grigg before. Grigg storms in, and this is how the scene plays out:
Grigg: “this dude was an actor before he was a butler! lol! Now he is shamed for all eternity!”
Carson: “yep, I was an actor before. I am so ashamed.”
Earl: “get the eff out of here, Grigg, or you’ll be in trouble. Nobody puts Carson in a corner.”
And… scene. This is the climax of the episode. Pretty amazing stuff, right? You can see why so many people swoon for this show!
The show initially draws you in during the first few episodes by showing you a rich guy (the Earl of Grantham) who is nice to poor people (the servants). It’s an ironically poignant comment on social castes, and a nice premise to what could be a great show.
But that hook fades quickly. And before you know it, you realize that you’ve been watching this show where the characters spend most of their time crying or giving each other snide looks and grimaces and you think… wait a second, this is just Day of our Lives but in British costume. This actually sucks.
But by then, you have to find out if the guy who was burned all over so that his face is unrecognizable** and allegedly died on the Titanic but reappeared a few years later with amnesia is actually the true heir of Downton and if the homely sister will fall in love him because she’s always the one who gets that shaft and she deserves love because she’s a really good person… but then he disappears two episodes later and is never mentioned again. So, um, I guess that whole subplot wasn’t actually important after all. See what I’m working with here? Downton Abbey sucks. You know it’s true.
* Okay, Maggie Smith is the only good thing about this show. Her job is to walk into a room, sit down, say clever and snarky things, and then leave. And she does it well.