Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Return of Downton Abbey

Break out your award winning flowers, ring up the valet, and make sure all the wine in the wine cellar is accounted for because the second season  of the Emmy Award winning series from Masterpiece Theatre,  Downton Abbey, starts tonight! (PBS 9PM EST) I'm not the only one excited for it. It's been a huge hit over in Britain where it's already aired. And judging from the eager anticipation here in the states, (its been featured in New York magazine and EW and it seems every blog and entertainment site is talking about it. My favorite is the quiz to find out which Downton character you are. I'm Lord Grantham. Boring. But, at least I get to live in a kick-ass castle/house.) it's sure to be the first must-see event of the new year.

I find it amazing that a period piece miniseries on public television has captured the public's attention the way that it has. I'll admit, I hadn't heard about it until the Emmys in September and was amazed that it won Best Miniseries or TV movie over the more publicized (and starrier cast) Mildred Pierce. But, luckily I was able to catch up on Netflix where all the episodes are Watch Instantly (All the episodes are also available online at PBS as well). My main question was, how did I live without this in my life before? Following the life of the Crawley family and their servants at the estate of Downton Abbey is an entertaining treat. Each episode unfolds in ways you don't always expect. You really care for these characters. Their lives may be from a different time and place, but their relationships and emotions are real. It's just great storytelling. 

In honor of the new season tonight, I have assembled a list of my five favorite characters and their goings on from Season One. Spoilers follow...
4 and 5. Thomas and O'Brien 
(Rob James-Collier and Siobhan Finneran)

The scheming duo and resident villians of Downton come as a package deal. Think how simple and dull life would be in the house if these two weren't there to meddle. Thomas works as a footman and wanted the position of Lord Grantham's valet that went to Mr. Bates. O'Brien is Lady Grantham's Lady's maid- allowing her intimate knowledge of the family. The two are constantly spotted together in the yard smoking and plotting ways to advance their careers and make everyone else's life a living hell. Bring in someone new for the valet position? Simply frame him for stealing and spread rumors about him. Try finding a replacement Lady's maid without so much as notice (it's a misunderstanding anyway!)? Well, just drop a bar of soap by the tub where the mistress of the house is sure to slip. 

The moment I knew this wasn't your typical stuffy upstairs/downstairs melodrama is in episode one when a suitor comes for Lady Mary and it turns out Thomas is the one who is interested in him...

3. Lady Mary
(Michelle Dockery)

Because Lord and Lady Grantham had no male heirs, the fate of the estate relies on the marriage of this eldest daughter of the three Crowley girls. When the series begins, we find the Titanic has sunk. One of the casualties was the cousin and intended husband of Lady Mary. She's not particularly upset about it and seems more concerned about the awful mourning clothes she'll have to wear. But this event brings much drama to the house as a third cousin, Matthew Crowley, is now the legal heir of Downton. Everything would be fine if she would just marry him. But, their love/ hate relationship proves to be a difficult one. Their will they or won't they drama makes them the Rachel and Ross of the corset set.

Lady Mary is one of those girls who has always had everything handed to her and as such believes that the world owes her everything she desires. Her selfishness causes a sibling rivalry with middle child, Lady Edith. Watching the two try to undermine each other is a wicked highlight. 

Oh, and did I mention that a visiting Turk sneaks into Lady Mary's bedchamber and dies in her bed while they are having...relations? 

2. Lady Sybil
(Jessica Brown Findlay)

The youngest (and prettiest) Crawley daughter stays out of the drama between her older sisters. She has far more important things to attend to. She's a modern woman of the 1910's! She attends political rallies with the Irish chauffeur and gets injured! She helps the maid, Gwen, get a job as a secretary simply because she recognizes the need for a woman to support herself! She has a new outfit made and its-pants! 

While much about the way Downton is run seems antiquated, Lady Sybil is the young voice of change. Every time she was on screen, I got excited because you just knew she was gonna do something independent and spirited. I'm hoping she gets her on spin-off series called Lady Sybil: Traveling Woman in Pants in which she is involved in all the feminist movements of the day. One week she's protesting with Susan B. Anthony. The next she's flying cross country with Amelia Earhardt...

Lady Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
(Maggie Smith)

Lord Grantham's mother doesn't really offer much in the way of plot points. Sure, she was a rivalry with cousin Matthew's mother, Isobel, and she put's in her two cents about the marriage of Lady Mary. But, the reason Violet is the best character is because she is played by two-time Oscar winner, Maggie Smith. She steals every scene she's in for the simple fact that she's Maggie Smith and can deliver a one-liner like no other. Behold a list of some greats:

"Why does everyday involve a fight with an American?"

Violet: "Why would you want to go to a real school? You're not a doctor's daughter."
Sybil: "Nobody learns anything from a governess, apart from French and how to curtsy."
Violet: "What else do you need? Are you thinking of a career in banking?"
Cora: "Things are different in America."
Violet: "I know. They live in wigwams."

"One can't go to pieces at the death of every foreigner. We'd all be in a constant state of collapse whenever we opened a newspaper."

Cora: "I might send her over to visit my aunt. She could get to know New York."
Violet: "Oh, I don't think things are quite that desperate."

"No one wants to kiss a girl in black."

Violet: "You are quite wonderful the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal."
Isobel: "I take that as a compliment."
Violet: "I must've said it wrong."

"What is a weekend?"

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