TV Review: Downton Abbey (Sunday ITV1)

Brit watches the first episode of series 2 of Downton Abbey (Sunday ITV1 9pm), the smash-hit pile of country house tosh…

“What shall we call each other?” asks the visitor.

“Well, whay don’t we start with Deem Meggie Smeeeeeeuth?” drawls Jennifer Saunders in the Comic Relief spoof of Downton Abbey – the only funny bit of Red Nose Day 2011 and a take-off so unerring and thorough that it rather renders any snarkery I might feel like indulging in here redundant. That won’t stop me indulging, of course, but you’ll enjoy the video below.

On Sunday Downton Abbey scooped four Emmys in Los Angeles and also returned for a second series on ITV1. An instant national treasure, it is without doubt one of the biggest, lushest, most high-calorie piles of tosh ever served up for our Sunday night consumption. It’s a marvel. I’d love to know how seriously the gong-giving Americans take it because I laughed heartily throughout this week’s opener. The Somme trench scenes were the first ribticklers, being comparable to those in Blackadder Goes Forth.

“Bloody hell, this war is bloody hellish” said our handsome hero, or words to that effect, staring into the middle distance behind our sofas. “It doesn’t half seem a jolly long time ago that I was back in…..Downton Abbey”. Cut straight to the hard stuff – butlers, maids, starch, cooks, frocks, stiff upper lips, Dame Maggie Smith (by miles the best thing in it) and all the other elements of the Sunday night fix of Edwardian Country House porn that apparently over 10 million of us have been pining for since November 2010, only this time with the added spice of uniforms, for now the Shadow of War hangs over Downton Abbey like a big War-shaped Shadow!

Not one single moment of Downton Abbey is even the teensiest bit believable. Four separate romantic melodramas are crammed down our gullets at once, sickly and superfluous as a handful of Thorntons Strawberry Velvets after pudding. Our handsome hero and the eldest daughter have an ongoing pride and prejudice thing which is so complicated that I can’t remember who rejected who last. The doomed class-divide fling between the youngest gal and the Oirish chauffeur plods its tiresome course to Gretna Green. A couple of young servants are at it and he’s obviously about to go off and get killed in France because he keeps chirping on about how keen he is to sign up while the womenfolk fret and mother him.

Then there’s the chaste affair between the sensible maid and the valet Bates (right). Ah, Bates! Brave, saintly, gammy-legged Bates: a comic masterpiece, that character. Nobody in the history of western civilisation has been so consistently wronged yet borne it with such stoical dignity. Everywhere he goes, he gets slandered, libeled. He hears words he never heard in the Bible. Like a recurring Fast Show gag, each week a grotesque injustice  is visited upon Bates, and each week he allows but the merest flicker of pain to cross his seen-it-all features and the faintest sigh of long suffering to pass his lips, before he straightens up, mans up, fronts up, and yet again limps away to fall on his sword for the greater good of Downton.

How I yearn for him to flip and go on a bloody axe rampage, but I fear that writer Julian “The Luvvie’s Luvvie’s Luvvie” Fellowes will be heaping unfortunate misunderstandings on his broad and dignified shoulders for some years to come.

For there is no end in sight for Downton Abbey: its comfortingly familiar pebbled driveways stretch far into the otherwise frightening and unknowable future. Already Fellowes is cooking up a post-Armistice third series. As with The X-Factor, ITV has struck gold: award-winning, critic-defying, transatlantic gold, which can be enjoyed by all age- and socioeconomic-groups, either straight up or with a generous dash of irony and – being ITV and thus lacking any qualms about quality control that might even now be holding back the resurrection of the far-superior Upstairs Downstairs – it will keep mining that seam until it is utterly spent.

Dabbler Review is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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About Author Profile: Brit

'Brit' is the blogging name of Andrew Nixon, a writer and publisher who lives in Bristol. He is the editor and co-founder of The Dabbler.

16 thoughts on “TV Review: Downton Abbey (Sunday ITV1)

  1. richard.lilley@thompsonlilley.co.uk'
    richard
    September 20, 2011 at 08:47

    Spot on. If the Daily Mail were a television programme it would be this one. We are running a book on future plotlines. So far the gay footman returned to Downton with his blighty one shags a recoverimg Sassoon and suggests he writes an angry letter to The Times……..Cousin Woodrow has 14 points he wishes to discuss with Lady Cora.

  2. Worm
    September 20, 2011 at 08:55

    praise be to allah that I haven’t seen a single second of it!

    • markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
      Recusant
      September 20, 2011 at 11:45

      Ditto

      • Gaw
        September 21, 2011 at 07:42

        I would have thought the sub-text for a Catholic reactionary might be that this is another malign consequence of the Reformation – the place would be much better full of monks.

        • markcfdbailey@gmail.com'
          Recusant
          September 21, 2011 at 09:15

          Well. of course, Gaw, but……………………….

  3. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    September 20, 2011 at 09:41

    Move over Adrian, the competitions arrived.

    Dallas, with libraries. The documentary, on the hoose and including a proper toff was fascinating, male proper toff…the end result of an intensive inbreeding programme, lady toff…refreshing.

    A distinct lack of bodice ripping hence absence of Keira Knightley (known in the trade as Keira Shitely) positioning herself beneath the producer.

    Disguises the bone gnawing, stomach churning near serfdom foisted upon the peasants by the toffs, shame on them, send for the tumbrels.

    How does one scoop Emmy’s? with the bucket of a JCB perhaps, unsubtle, but there again so is the trade.

  4. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    malty
    September 20, 2011 at 10:26

    Wonder when this will appear in the script….

    Gee, but it’s great to be back home
    Home is where I want to be
    I’ve been on the road so long, my friend
    And if you came along
    I know you couldn’t disagree
    It’s the same old story,yeah
    Everywhere I go
    I get slandered, libeled
    I hear words I never heard in the Bible
    And I’m one step ahead of the shoe shine
    Two steps away from the county line
    Just trying to keep my customers satisfied
    Satisfied

    Deputy Sheriff said to me
    “Tell me what you come here for, boy
    You better get your bags and flee
    You’re in trouble, boy
    And now you’re heading into more”
    It’s the same old story
    Everywhere I go
    I get slandered, libeled
    I hear words I never heard in the Bible
    And I’m one step ahead of the shoeshine
    Two steps away from the county line
    Just trying to keep my customers satisfied
    Satisfied

    And it’s the same old story
    Everywhere I go
    I get slandered, libeled
    I hear words I never heard in the Bible
    And I’m so tired
    I’m oh, so tired
    But I’m trying to keep my customers satisfied

  5. rory@peritussolutions.com'
    roryoc
    September 20, 2011 at 10:29

    Very good Brit. Bates as a Fast Show gag is excellent. He did let the mask slip all too briefly (“you bitch!”) but within a minute he was in the carriage, resigned to his fate with his blackmailing wife. I think Mr. Carson is enjoyable, maybe because of memories of Jim Carter in the Singing Detective. The soft focus and ludicrous plots are very ITV. It’s like they’ve given Brideshead Revisited the Pimp My Ride treatment.
    I would file DA under guilty pleasures.

  6. velorg@gmail.com'
    ianf
    September 20, 2011 at 16:52

    Pimp Me Brideshead Revisited” is spot on, as is Brit’s entire well-deserved maltreatment. Pile it on. A winning formula indeed, and that despite –or is it because of?— its various plotlines’ utter unbelievability. Do ordinary tv-watching folks really fall for it. Oh, why won’t the ITV just buy license from the Beeb and rerun The Middlemarch back to back, or something. Or maybe even do a speculative sequel “Middlemarch – The Ladislaw Years.”

  7. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    September 20, 2011 at 18:23

    I should point out at this stage that I haven’t yet missed an episode. It’s weirdly compelling.

    I thought Fellowes’ Gosford Park was terrific, which shows what a good director (Robert Altman) can do.

  8. davidanddonnacohen@gmail.com'
    David
    September 21, 2011 at 03:05

    Mostly what Americans think (and I would have thought the English as well) is, “Now, that’s a house.”

  9. alasguinns@me.com'
    Hey Skipper
    September 21, 2011 at 05:57

    We saw a couple of the first episodes on BBC America, and thought we liked it. Yet somehow the thought of a third did not enthused less than leaving the space on our DVR unused.

    Sort of like drinking a garish, simple malt whiskey.

    A problem I would not have if, unlike Downton Abbey, Glengoyne could manage to make it across the Atlantic (and, to be fair, the flyover states, Rocky Mountains, regions of religious delusion — Salt Lake City, Berkeley — and a smallish splash of the Pacific).

    • davidanddonnacohen@gmail.com'
      David
      September 21, 2011 at 14:58

      Tut, tut, Skipper. The “comment of the month” judges are clearly people of discriminating tastes and a becoming personal modesty who will be in no way swayed by such blatant ploys as praising Glengoyne in the comments in hope of winning a (second!) bottle.

      It’s a shame, really, for if it were otherwise I would write paeans to its deep golden color, silky smoothness and warming finish that, like Proust’s madeleine, instantly sparks a memory that enraptures.

      • rory@peritussolutions.com'
        roryoc
        September 21, 2011 at 15:16

        Let us be grateful to the people at Glengoyne who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom… ahem.

  10. meehanmiddlemarch@googlemail.com'
    Jane
    September 27, 2011 at 00:09

    Oh thank you so much for this! I hadn’t seen the spoof (regarding the Red Nose things as a bit of a luvvie bore-in). DA (yes, I’m still watching it, it’s weirdly compulsive to see how bad it can get) is absolute tosh and not even in a good way. It has had so much money lavished on it, but such a lousy script. In the opening titles the last shot is someone poking a feather duster at a chandelier which looks just like a French/Saunders Victoria Wood spoof. And in the first episode, m’lady objects to her gel going off to do the nursing thing, and nobody mentions, as surely they would have done, that she’s AMERICAN and they hadn’t joined in yet. Would have offended the US audience obviously. Someone else also says – and i think it’s without irony ‘there’s no more shooting since the war started’ – did no-one look at that line? And as for Hugh Bonneville saying stuff about the papers – well, I suppose it was shot before that little trouble he had in the courts.
    I thought Gosford Park was tosh too – just a gallery of British luvvies. Curiously Fellowes’ first novel ‘Snobs’ was actually quite good. Only watching DA for the pretty Dan Stevens. The whole thing is a b……y disgrace, really bad. And thank you Simon Callow for your great p-take in the spoof!
    Such a waste of talent – actors, production, costume etc etc. Grrrrrr!

  11. meehanmiddlemarch@googlemail.com'
    Jane
    September 27, 2011 at 11:32

    Description of DA by Sam Wollaston in The Guardian: “Howards’ Way masquerading as Howards End”.

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