Did you catch the season premiere of Downton Abbey on Sunday? I see at least 10.2 million of you did. My take: Two solid hours of boredom. I don’t want to be one of those people who finds fault with all things popular, but I do think this show, like Mad Men, has completely lost its mojo. Let’s just say I don’t have any strong urge to see Episode 2.
I loved Downton Abbey at the beginning. The death of the handsome Turk atop Lady Mary, while ludicrous, at least forced some conflict and intrigue into the milieu of institutional boredom that was pre-War England. At the time, I really hoped the season would be an old-school murder yarn, a la Gosford Park. When it wasn’t, I still hoped the writers were going to have some fun with the tired Masterpiece sensibility that is such a staple of public television.
But they aren’t having fun, are they? While the show slid deeply into melodrama in Season Three, it was the kind of earnest, restrained melodrama that left many viewers — my wife, for example — nodding off well before the credits rolled. I never sleep during TV shows — to me, it’s like wasting food — but even I had to fight the urge Sunday night.
Because: Everything feels like a rehash, the various plot threads inconsequential. Julian Fellowes and his minions keep returning to the same well, and keep winching up the same old stories. O’Brien decamps to Scotland, but she’s quickly replaced by another female schemer, this one a bit more sexy. Matthew’s gone, but we’re supposed to care just as much about Edith’s wan romance. Personally, I wouldn’t mind them both moving to Germany, pronto. Carson proves once again that beneath the gruff exterior beats a heart of pure gold. We get it, already! Daisy … well, she’s the same clueless, dispensable character she’s been since the beginning. Please, Julian: Make her interesting or make her leave.
Then there’s Mary. Throughout the episode she seemed as disinterested as I was, no doubt hoping that the audience would read it as numbing grief. Michelle Dockery doesn’t do vulnerability well, and doesn’t look all that good in black. But she didn’t do joyous newlywed very well either. I suppose that’s why she’s now being positioned to become the Kim Jong-Un of Downton. She does do a pretty convincing ice queen. The show does need a Tilda Swinton-like harridan to come in and ruin some lives. Thomas, apparently, is no longer up to the job.
Or, I don’t know. Maybe the show is better than it’s ever been. Maybe it’s just me. Over the past year I’ve had little enthusiasm for quite a few highly recommended shows: House of Cards, Homeland, Top of the Lake. I watch a couple of episodes and then kind of forget to watch more. Then I stumble across spoilers and figure there’s no point.
What do you think? Am I being too hard on Downton Abbey? Is it good that the show has been already been granted a fifth season? Finally: If you were a British blueblood, wouldn’t you get tired of the help always butting in with “Might I have a word?”