A Farewell to Downton Abbey

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Max Luebbers

By Max Luebbers ’16, Entertainment Editor

Some would say that first impressions are everything. For most, their first impression of the long-running Masterpiece Theatre import, Downton Abbey, was the inexplicably artistic shot of a dog’s butt. Many a millennial would call this a shrouded jab at the show’s quality, but for 5 years Julian Fellow’s Austen-esque drama has grasped my attention. A mix of schadenfreude, voyeurism, and a fixation on catching a glimpse of aforesaid dog has kept me coming back season after season. I admit that there is plethora of cheese to be found in Downton Abbey, but if this is the case it’s a nice brie on water crackers: an alluringly funky odor, with a rather bland yet appealing flavor. Last month we said farewell to this rather infamous hors d’oeuvre after a drawn-out final season.

I pride myself on being a devoted Downton Abbey apologist. I won’t deny that it is unequivocally stupid in its faux-sophistication, unabashed in its imitation of its predecessor, Upstairs Downstairs, and a bit too long-lived. Yet, it has consistently produced a series of memorable if not asinine moments of public television. It’s PBS’s Coldplay if you will. After all I did say once that, “Appreciation requires a bit of awe, a bit of cynicism and a whole lot of humor.”

Downton Abbey, which first aired in September of 2010 overseas in England, immediately gained a rather strong following from the more aged demographics in the states. It quickly became a household name for grandmothers around the country and the subject of various cash-in merchandise like the cookbooks of meals in the show, or perhaps hedge trimmers for those finely-curated gardens. The show has also produced some new actors who have become increasingly more prominent since the inception of the drama like Hugh Bonneville and Lily James. No other actor or actress, however, compares to Dame Maggie Smith who plays role of the aging and acerbic Dowager-Countess. Known to many as Professor McGonagall, Smith delivers a performance with such humor and overall theatricality, that it is impossible to not become immediately enamored with her character. While all the characters remain rather static and undynamic, Downton Abbey pushes its rather meandering and convoluted plot along with a series of implausible yet equally shocking developments followed by long-winded and banal story arcs and dramas that could have been avoided if anyone in the 20-some strong cast had any more foresight than a bat in sunlight. In fact, most of Downton Abbey’s character development in the 5th and final season is more suburban than royal: Tom the chauffeur-turned-agent, has become inexplicably more reminiscent of a potato (he’s a homey Irish lad) and a daughter I forgot the name of finally got married after a decade of failed attempts (one of the fiancées got beat up by Nazi’s, the other one just kinda… left?). Of course Robert did give his best reenactment of the xenomorph birth scene from Alien, but the majority of the final season was filled with the dry arguments about a hospital merger and the ongoing investigation about a crime someone might have committed in season two.

So it was more of the same from Downton this year. A shame, because it could have ended so well if it had just thrown in the towel last year. Instead we were treated to a rather long wrap-up, and an unsatisfying double marriage that was rushed to completion for the sake of making the 10-episode maker. Nothing ever reached the emotional highpoints of Tom and Sybil’s first kiss or Matthew’s shocking return from the dead in previous seasons. Instead Thomas creates a very uncharacteristic fondness for children, Daisy becomes even more of an airhead, and Carson completes his journey into utter frumpiness (Are servants even relevant anymore?). Despite all the drudgery. That final episode closes out with a tear-jerking rendition of Auld Lang Syne from the entire cast.

Yes it’s become a bit of a parody of itself, but there’s no doubt Downton Abbey had a formula that worked and stuck to it. Despite it being somewhat of a shared joke for the younger demographics, Downton can lay down some real shocking moments, some gorgeous scenery, and a lovely if not sappy sound track. Downton’s theme song, “Did I Make the Most of Loving You?” serves as a fairly accurate description of the program as a whole. The answer is “Probably not,” but it sure was a nice ride to figure that out.


Image Source: http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-previews/downton-abbey-finale-how-mirrors-6785312