Downton Abbey is a total television phenomenon. So much so that this PBS Masterpiece Classic was added to the Guinness Book of World Records in 2011 as the most critically acclaimed TV show in the English language. More than American Idol. More than The Sopranos?! That's saying something.
It's like crack, if crack were a television show. While season one was the pipe in our left hand, season two is the really long lighter in our right. Just watch one episode and you're immediately obsessed with the lives of the Crawley family, their servants, and basically anyone who appears anywhere on camera in any capacity.
If you're a Downton Abbey fan, which you are, whether you know it or not, you'll enjoy Paper Magazine's photos comparing the actors' looks both on- and offscreen. The familiar faces from the program, transformed into real-life people, with tacky makeup and too much hair product, is mesmerizing. There's so much to know about these actual folks. There's a whole new world of celebrity to obsess over. Move your big fat ass over, Kim Kardashian; we've got a new hang-up. We said, move over.
A friend who is a manly man who writes a blog about football and who used to be in a noise band posted that article on Facebook. This is proof that even men will love this show once their female friend or partner or hag forces them to view it.
To understand the diverse crowd that watches Downton, we asked this fanboy friend what it was about the show that entranced him. "I don't know that most guys would dig it, but I love Brit culture, and it's fairly well-written. It's got heart, mainly," he said. The thing is, guys do dig it. Including my father. His birthday present from my mother this year was The World of Downton Abbey, a behind-the-scenes book on the show.
"It's interesting to see the perspectives from different classes at a time just before that Old Guard experienced sweeping changes postwar," my friend continued. "Got that same Mad Men feeling where the viewer knows how things turned out." Adding a "bro" to assert his masculinity.
The historical-fiction aspect allows men to pretend that's the reason they're watching, not because they're worried about whether Daisy marries William before he croaks. They're watching because they care about WWI. It's about history, not kisses. At least that's what they could say when questioned.
Probably the most addictive thing about Downton Abbey is Maggie Smith. That old broad can act. Well, she can act the crap out of a period piece or Sister Act. Maggie's got this show on lock.
As the matriarch of the Crawley crew, Lady Grantham is filled with good jabs and smartass remarks. "Is this an instrument of communication or torture?" She says, looking at the newish invention in her hand, a telephone. That's a personal favorite. The show isn't oversaturated with funny moments, so Smith's jokes punctuate the dramatic ones with the perfect amount of the measured humor of the British.
The other thing that keeps us all enthralled is the fact that there's too much going on. Too much. This makes feeling confused yet intrigued the norm. It's like, you find yourself saying, "Wait, so did Mary do it with the Turk? No, right? I forget." And, "Is Daisy dumb or just young?" Doesn't matter; you're so caught up in their lives; it's like they're your drinking buddies, even that illegitimate baby of Ethel Park's. It's that soap opera that everyone loves. Drama all the time.
Finally, it's fun to look at. Elizabeth McGovern as Countess of Grantham is a great beauty, and Michelle Dockery as Mary is subtly glamorous. Matthew's a cutie too, not an obvious babe, but he grows on ya. And who doesn't want to live in Downton? It's a little roomy, but all the better to hide the dead bodies in.
Maybe we didn't convince you that Downton Abbey is the bomb, but once you watch an episode, you won't sleep until the following Sunday. On that Sunday, you will elbow your way to the tele, even though you're recording it on DVR, knocking over pets and family members on the way, stepping on children, shushing as you go. Now, that's the mark of good television.