Friday, April 27, 2012

Two Thumbs Down: Downton Abbey

This probably comes way too late, but it is only recently that I was able to watch Season Two of Downton Abbey. I had been frustrated by the first season, but the cliffhangers compelled me to endure the second. And frankly, it was so lacking that I feel like a rant, even though I may be violating quite a few sensibilities (Warning: Does contain spoilers.)
Most mini-series adaptations from the BBC are based on classic novels. However, Downton  is a series written by the modern man.

In Season One, at least, there was character development; Mary was the spoiled favorite, mean-spirited and petty, unnecessarily waspish to her sister Edith, the middle daughter. After years of being overlooked and slighted, Edith developed a tough survival instinct and is constantly on the offensive. Sybil, the youngest and undoubtedly the most gorgeous, is miraculously untouched by these squabbles, and is as lovely in nature as she is in face and figure (not that you can tell much with the deforming Edwardian styles).
Edith, Mary, and Sybil (Lto R)
However, in Season Two, these defined personalities fade away. Suddenly Mary's only lines are "I am so sorry" with a sympathetic crease between her brows as weak proof that her unpleasantness has been mellowed due to . . . who knows? Overnight she has discovered empathy and kindness, yet she lacks remorse for previous sins (except for the ones where her reputation is at stake), which makes it all the more unrealistic. 

As for Edith, her tough exterior has dissolved, seemingly because she now accepts her position as family drudge. She cheerfully goes about her day, still overlooked and slighted, but now she no longer cares, I guess. And not even because she has a man in her life; despite the fact that she sat at the bedsides of eligible men during World War I, no bachelor is interested in her new-found vivacity and charm. 

Passes are made, but only by a middle-aged married farmer and a horribly disfigured war casualty masquerading as her long-lost cousin; the man she still wants is a widower in his 60s. What's really sad is that when he tells her that a lovely youngster like her shouldn't throw herself away on him, she responds that he is only man to call her "lovely." Have some self-respect, girl! Or at least, the writers shouldn't be constantly putting her down. 

Due to this inexplicable altering in personalities, the war between Mary and Edith is at an end, despite the fact they did each other unspeakable wrongs at the close of Season One. 

As for Sybil, she is perhaps the biggest disappointment to me. Characteristically, she insists on becoming a nurse during the war, against her parents' protestations, working hard, selflessly, and competently. But the family chauffeur, a communist, begins to make romantic overtures. I can't stand communists. There isn't even a flicker of chemistry, but her dialogue insists that she loves him. Meh. 

As for Matthew and Mary's on again/off again relationship, I never championed it. Mary will always be that spiteful brat to me, and Matthew was always adorably congenial (he seems to play those characters a lot; he was Edward in my favorite redo of Sense & Sensibility) and too good for her. I never understood why he was interested in Mary; their attraction is as head-scratching as Sybil's romance.

Then there are the other players. Thomas, the nasty footman, always manages to land on his feet no matter how many crimes he commits; why can't they kill him off already? Mr. Bates, the Earl's valet and paramour of the estimable housemaid Anna, is found guilty of murdering his wife, and while she persists in his innocence, I believe he killed her. She was a frightful woman; I probably would have.

In this season whatever tenuous separations there were between the lord and his servants are pretty much undone, as the underlings seem to be treated in practically equal terms as their "betters," which I find highly improbable. 

The only gleam of light is Maggy Smith as the Dowager Countess. Her one-liners are priceless.

I will see Season Three when it premieres. Not because I like it; there are still a few loose threads I would like to see resolved, but thankfully there were not as many as in the end of Season One. Considering how much this series costs, they could have made this better.

That felt good, to hammer out a critique. Back to regularly scheduled programming. 

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