Tag Archives: Downton Abbey

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: The Outcasts

7 Mar

The Americans

It’s time for an annual beginning-of-the-year tradition (beginning-ish this year, granted, my bad on the lateness) over here at Drug of the Nation, the ranking of the shows I’ve watched during the previous year. This is my fifth annual ranking, and I’ll repeat the caveat I placed atop last year’s ranking introduction:

Because the TV season is no longer the fall-to-spring trajectory that it used to be, I arbitrarily rank things on a calendar basis, and that leads to strange situations where I’m occasionally ranking the end of one season and the beginning of the next season in the same ranking. It’s strange, and not ideal, but I have to pick some point in the year to do the rankings, so I’ll roll with the punches and mention within the article if there was a significant change in quality one way or the other between the end and beginning of seasons covered in the same year.

I’m only ranking shows I watched all of or just about all of the episodes that aired last year; if I’m just two or three behind I’ll rank it, but if I’ve only seen two or three, I won’t. I’m ranking a few miniseries and but not shows with one-off specials. These rules are arbitrary, admittedly, but any rules would be. No daily variety programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are eligible either.

This year, as I said last year, ranking these show was incredibly difficult and often arbitrary, generally running in tiers; I probably liked the tenth ranked show clearly more than the 20th ranked show, but not necessarily clearly more than the 11th show. It’s a snapshot of how I felt the second I finalized the rankings, and they could have changed if I had finalized them the next day or hour or minute. The top tier was probably the hardest it’s ever been, particularly in regard to the strongest overall group of great half hour shows I’ve seen in my five years ranking shows.

Many of the shows no longer on the list are simply because they ended in 2014 or took a break in 2015, but I’ll put in a couple of notes for shows that I didn’t watch even though they did air in 2015.

The Outcasts:

The Honourable Woman – 2014: 7

Olive Kitteridge – 2014: 9

Doctor Who – 2014: 22

Sherlock – 2014: 24

Sons of Anarchy – 2014: 26

The Bridge – 2014: 28

Boardwalk Empire – 2014: 37

24: Live Another Day – 2014: 38

Wilfred – 2014: 40

Okay. Three of these were miniseries. Sherlook, as it is wont to do, took a year off, and the rest are done for good. Now, a few words about the couple that aired last year that I declined to watch anyway.

Masters of Sex – 2014: 35

Masters of Sex

The two shows that follow this I definitively decided to stop watching. Masters of Sex I just kind of fell behind on and never caught up to. I did, and kind of do, intend to catch up eventually, but the fact that I haven’t after half a year certainly says a fair amount about the show. The second season was fine, but it seemed so much less focused than the first, contained a puzzling midseason time jump, and generally just didn’t seem to have any idea what it was doing or where it was going. The actors are great, and there are moments of promise, but it was so scattershot that I definitely loss some interest. I watched the first couple of episodes from the third season, and they were also fine but not particularly compelling and I just haven’t gotten back to it since. During the first season, I was heartily recommending my friends watch it. Since then, not so much.

Downton Abbey – 2014: 41

Downton Abbey

I was stunned to read I had actually watched Downton Abbey in 2014. I thought I stopped long before that, but I guess not. It’s harder and harder to remember that Downton Abbey was actually, well, pretty damn good, in its first season, a fun, soapy, look at a time long gone, with a decidedly positive sheen, for sure, but with some pretty good characters also. And then, well, the soapiness remained, but the show got less interesting as did the characters, as often happens. I stayed on a couple seasons after I cared all that much, but eventually decided to pull the plug.

Helix – 2014: 43

Helix

Ick. Every year, I try to find at least one show to watch with my dad; not necessarily with him at the same exact time and place (though sometimes) but at least one show that I watch that he’s also watching that I can talk about when I see him or talk to him over the phone. The show at various points has ranged from 24 to AMC’s ill-fated Rubicon. Last year, the show ended up being Helix. I was intrigued by the pedigree; it was from BSG’s Ron Moore, and the first episode held promise. The show spun farther and farther out of control, revealing bigger and bigger mysteries that entirely blew up the scope of the show. Also it just wasn’t very good. It seems like half a decade ago that I watched this show, but apparently it was only two years ago, so here it is.

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Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 43-40

26 Jan

Let’s kick if off – here’s a link to the introduction to our annual ranking of shows that I watched last year. This is our first batch of shows, and it contains the only couple shows I didn’t really enjoy watching last year along with a show that ended without quite living up to its potential. Here we go.

43. Helix – 2013: Ineligible

Helix

For almost every show on this list, I’m going to struggle to explain how it was ranked so low, and make sure that it comes across clearly how much I enjoy the show despite its relatively low ranking. Not here. Nearly every year, there’s one show I keep up with for far too long before it disappoints me and comes apart so much that I have trouble remembering why I kept up with it that long to begin with. In 2013, that show was Under the Dome. Last year, it was Helix. Like Under the Dome, Helix had an intriguing sci-fi premise. It was also from Ron Moore, who was behind the buzzy and worth-watching, if often overrated Battlestar Galactica remake. Helix was about a team of government scientists sent to a remote artic base outside of any government’s jurisdiction where a team of scientists and researchers work on top-secret projects. At its best, it had horror-suspense intrigue; think The Thing. Unfortunately, the characters and writing were weak and didn’t get stronger, and on top of that, the story scaled up way too quickly – so much that halfway through, it turned out the base was being run by a secret cabal of immortals. By the finale, it felt like I had been sold a bill of goods in the pilot and I left fairly disgusted, writing off any chance of my watching the second season.

42. House of Cards – 2013: 39

House of Cards

My opinion about the second season of House of Cards is similar to my opinion of the first season, but even more so. House of Cards is such an apt name for the show because it captures the plot from the viewer’s perspective – if you deign to think about any plot element for any amount of time, the entire plot of the show simply crumbles. This makes House of Cards ideal for marathon watching; the less you think about the show, the more enjoyable it is, which is generally not a great recommendation for a series. The second simply makes even less sense then the first, and Kevin Spacey’s protagonist Frank Underwood can get tiresome.  It often feels like his character has little depth or anything other than ambition and a mediocre southern accent to keep us peeled. The show is nonsensical, and lacks characters worth caring about. It’s lazy, sloppily written, and the dialogue is often silly and stupid – if I ever have to hear about “back channeling” something again, I’m not sure how I’ll react. How the president is so incompetently naïve to get manipulated by Spacey time and again makes one wonder how he ascended to the office in the first place. Admittedly, I may well watch the next season, as long as I do it in less than two days and never have to think about it again thereafter.

41. Downton Abbey – 2013: 42

Downton Abbey

Every year I forgot whether I qualify Downton Abbey season-wise by the time of its original British airing in the autumn, or its American airing in the following spring. A thorough search history tells me I chose the latter, so this blurb is for the show’s fourth season. Downton Abbey, to be frank, hasn’t been a very good show since its surprisingly enjoyable first season. It’s a melodramatic soap that sometimes acts as if it thinks it goes deeper, which it doesn’t, and the show suffers because of these pretentions. Every year I strongly consider not watching the next season. I’m currently leaning towards not watching season five, but ever year I’ve relented so far so I can’t be sure of myself. Every year, after I finish the season I wonder why I watched. Downton Abbey is less culturally relevant than it has ever been and is rightfully a show whose cultural relevance has declined at the same speed as its quality. On a positive note, for what it’s worth, the theme music is still as great as ever.

40. Wilfred – 2013: 34

WilfredSeason41

Wiflred was the little show that could, an adaptation of an Australian show that pushed on towards four seasons even though it could never quite become the cult favorite it wanted to and very occasionally deserved to be. The fourth and final season was largely less than satisfying, particularly the ending, and the show was as up and down and inconsistent as ever. At its heights, Wilfred, the story of a man and his best friend, a dog who looks like a human in a dog suit to him and only him, was warm, funny, irreverent, and weird. In its lesser moments, Wilfred was flat, somewhat boring, and repetitive, especially because most episodes followed a very similar pattern in which the man doesn’t listen to Wilfred, before coming around to his advice. The show, unwisely I always thought, decided to take on the big question of whether Wilfred was real or whether Ryan was simply crazy, and while those mythology episodes worked surprisingly well in earlier seasons, in the fourth season, they didn’t. The disappointing ending was only a small part of the last season, but it was emblematic of the season’s failure to convert of its potential. I’m glad I watched Wilfred, but redone with a number of edits, it could have been a lot better.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 44-41

30 Dec

Next four up – we inch towards shows that I actually like! A note that I may have forgotten to make early – differences between one show and the next are often slight; sometimes it’s the difference of which side of the bed I got up in the morning; if two shows are next to each other, which one I like more may switch on the day; if one show is 15 higher, I probably like it more. Moving on.

44. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.-1

You know that feeling, when you really just want a show to be better? I mean, of course you want every show you watch to be better, but some feel like they’re worse for a reason, or it would be more difficult to make them better, or they’re just tired out and honestly, although you want some new ideas, you don’t really have any either. And then there are those shows that just well, should be better, and it honestly shouldn’t be that hard to make them better, and that’s what makes them so frustrating. Marvel’s Agents of Shield is a new show with definite promise from the Whedon empire. There are seeds of interesting characters, but a disappointing lack of characterization and wit which have marked all TV shows Whedon has previously been associated with. It’s delivered on juuuust enough promise that I’m going to continue to watch because I decided I would at least until the end of the first season. After that, well, I’d rather just hope and say I’m glad I don’t have to make that call now. Be better, Marvel’s Angets of Shield. I know you can be.

43. Community

Season 4 Never Happened

If you read the internet, you know the basic deal surrounding Community this past season (and this upcoming one). Creator and genius Dan Harmon fired, but show kept on the air, taken over by new show-runners. Opinions of the fourth season range from mediocre to unspeakably make-you-want-to-kill-yourself bad, and Dan Harmon isn’t the only one to share that latter end of the spectrum. It’s not a good season and it’s worse because it’s Community, because it’s the characters and the universe we fanboys and fangirls (so few people actually watch Community that you’re a fanboy or fangirl by definition if you do) care so much about and are so deeply invested in. Still, I lean towards the season being mediocre. It’s not good; and it’s vastly disappointing but it’s not like it’s actually awful by regular TV standards, just by the high standards we’ve grown accustomed to as Community fans. More than bad, it’s just off; the tone felt different and not in a good way. The great cast made it watchable even when they could have used better material to work with. Still, let’s get excited for this year. Three years ago, I never thought Community would see a fifth season.

42. Downton Abbey

Residents of Downton Abbey

This has become one of those shows that I think I might stop watching, start watching a couple months after the season started, get just engulfed enough to finish the episodes pretty quickly, and then promptly forget pretty quickly after finishing. That sums up where Downton Abbey is at this point. It’s a soap that doesn’t have a huge amount of long-term thought-provoking value, but it does have redeeming qualities, and though I won’t think about it for a while and probably won’t watch any of the episodes remotely around when they air, I will actually watch them before the next season comes around. We Americans may mock the UK left and right for its aristocracy and royalty, and with good reason, but we can also admit to being mildly enchanted by it, and honestly, more than anything by the amazing buildings in which they seem to live and their endless sheer amount of rooms. As long as Maggie Smith remains, I’m probably not going anywhere.

41. Homeland

Carrie and Brody

I’ve expounded on this in great depth so I’ll spare you the grisly details. But suffice to say, I viewed this season as something of a make or break. I gave the show a partial mulligan for Season 2’s disappointment. They had stuck themselves in a tough place and I wanted to give them a chance to start something new with a clean slate. The writers chose not to go in that direction and instead retread old ground in not particularly interesting and more so not particularly convincing ways. They had a chance to start anew, to be different, to accept the successes of the first season but move on, realizing they couldn’t reach those highs the same way again. If they had gone in that direction, it might not have worked, but it would have been a real attempt. Instead, Homeland moved another step towards 24, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if it didn’t want so badly to be more than that and I didn’t know that it once was. It’s still above some other shows because the acting is very good and even in the disappointing season there are isolated strong moments and plotlines. But it’s little solace from a show with one of the best debut seasons out there.

End of Season Report – Downton Abbey, Season 3

26 Jun

Sisters Downton

I’ll admit I wasn’t particularly excited to watch the third season of Downton Abbey.  I waited until long after it aired in both the UK and the US to watch it.  While I never doubted I would get around to it, after the second season I was a lot less excited with the whole prospect. Saying I was disenchanted with the show is far too strong a word for a show that didn’t really change its essential stripes, but I was hardly looking forward to it either.

I’m making this point only to turn around and give Downton Abbey the backhand compliment that while the third didn’t exactly return me back into a state of excitement about the show, it also didn’t continue to deflate my expectations as much as it might have.  It represented a plateau-ing of Downton Abbey, as the third season was at least as consistent as the second season.  While I’m still not super excited about the fourth season, I probably won’t wait as long to watch it.

Everyone who watches this show should know this by now, but Downton Abbey is a primetime soap opera thinly disguising itself (and not even really disguising itself at this point) as a show about the dynamics of class politics in early 20th century Britain.  Watching Downton has made me think there could be a place for a really piercing drama about these class politics, but this certainly isn’t it.  It’s not entirely politically vacant, and to Downton’s credit, while they smooth most conflicts over fairly quickly, they don’t entirely ignore their existence.  Still, every seemingly political content is generally just used as a vehicle for personal drama.

Downton does cycle right through a series of issues which could really be reckoned with, but these difficult issues are generally introduced just to provide fodder for short term conflict between two or more main characters, and then solved an episode later, after which tea will be served.  Sybil’s marriage to a chauffeur was the stuff of scandal, but by the end of the third season, Tom has joined the family and just about entirely quelled his controversial talk about Irish independence.  The Catholic-Protestant conflict is solved in about 45 minutes after Lord Grantham eventually gives in.  Poor Lord Grantham has to play the conservative heavy in almost every conflict this season, counting on all the charisma and love he’s generated in the early seasons to prevent him from coming off as a total villain.  A scandal revolving Thomas Barrow’s homosexuality (which I had totally forgotten about) nearly ruined his life before a surprising number of empathetic parties, who have had their qualms in the past with the generally villainous Barrow, put pressure on the servant who was doing the accusing. The accuser was motivated less by hate than by the machinations of the scheming O’Brien.  Ethel, the maid who had given birth to the child of a solider who was recuperating at Downton (I had also totally forgotten about this) returns, as the always virtuous Mrs. Crawley hires her so she can rehabilitate from her life as a prostitute (things did not go well for her after Downton).  This sets off a major conflict but all’s well when the Dowager Countess helps get her a new job working for a family near where her child is being raised by the kid’s grandparents. Everybody wins!

I’m making these points not to vent against these happy endings; they’re quite fine, but rather to much as to make sure we’re clear on what we’re watching.  It’s a visually gorgeous soap opera that happens to involve some really rich people and not rich people who work for them in their awesome house.

As I pointed out above, poor Robert serves as the unchanging conservative force who is having trouble adapting to the new times, more than his wife, and even more than his mother.  It’s kind of sad watching him fight against everyone else, especially when he’s usually the only one on his side.  His poor decision making is evident, after earlier in the season discovering he lost all of his money in bad investments, he tries to argue for reinvesting in the fund of a one Charles Ponzi.  Even Downton Abbey can’t resist a pointed historical joke from time to time.

Fitting for a show that’s really about personal drama rather than political conflict, the most moving moments by far involved the death of youngest daughter Sybil right after she gives birth to a daughter.   While the political conflicts often like they’re lacking juice, the reaction from Sybil’s death felt authentic by all parties. After Sybil’s death, there’s a bizarre turn in Edith’s character in the second half of the season when I felt the strange sensation of rooting for her, which made me entirely uncomfortable.  That said,  kudos to whoever decided they wanted to make Edith stop being horrible.  Shows aren’t served well by characters that are irredeemably terrible, and Edith has never been quite that bad, but she’s come close.

There’s lots of little drama between the characters that is hardly edge-of-your-seat suspenseful but is enough to care about at least for as long as the episode is.  There’s a love quadrangle among the servants as Daisy likes Albert who likes Ivy who likes James who likes, well, who even knows.  In filling up just eight episodes, it seems like sometimes the writers don’t have a ton of ideas left but Downton is surprisingly watchable for a show where a lot of the subplots aren’t particularly captivating.  It is, if I haven’t said, a really fucking nice house.

This season was definitely a little bit looser and more relaxed now that Matthew and Mary are finally married.  The will-they won’t-they between the two of the them was charming initially, but got tiring as it seemed like the show was just inventing excuses to keep them apart.

I don’t want to leave without saying how hilarious I thought the impression of Americans was on the program.  Shirely MacLaine plays Cora’s mother and makes constant quips about quaint British traditions and how allergic to change the British are.  In the last episode, we’re introduced to a new young female character named Rose for some reason.  I think Rose is introduced only to help portray the ‘20s as we Americans know them with loose women and flappers doing the Charleston while black musicians play.  When it’s discovered she’s visiting these clubs with a married man, Rose has embroiled herself in s a scandal that everyone at Downton can agree on!

Ranking the Shows I Watch – 2012 edition: 24-22

8 Feb

Ranking the shows I watch, from 2012 – for the rules, see the intro here; 24, 23, and 22 below.

24.  Downton Abbey

Downtown Abbey

I thought the show was titled Downtown Abbey for a good year, like many.  The first season captivated me a lot more than I thought it would, and I’d like to make a shout out here to the wonderful theme music.  The second season, with more episodes, struggled a little bit (we’re using American air dates, so second season aired in 2012, rather than British air dates, where the third season was shown last fall).  While some people were stunned to realize they were watching an overblown primetime soap, albeit with interesting social issues at play, that much was obvious to me.  The problem rather was that some of the twists in the second season were pure daytime, most notably the absolutely ridiculous plot in which an injured soldier cons Edith into believing he’s a family member the Granthams thought dead on the Titanic in the first episode of the series (by the way, starting your show with a succession issue caused by the Titanic’s sinking? that’s high drama).  Matthew miraculously gaining the use of his penis (yes, penis) and legs back after having them paralyzed was a little much, though mostly inevitable; they could at least have had him suffer some kind of permanent damage to make the whole injury meaningful.  The show was also constrained by having to figure out how to get Matthew and Mary together and then apart and then together and then apart within the rules of high English society. By the end of the season, while I was certainly rooting for them, I just wanted something to be done and final.  The Bates murder trial never worked for me either.  Anyway, the moral is that the second season paled in comparison to the first, but still had some wonderful moments and the always excellent sniping of Maggie Smith’s dowager countess.  These problems are also easily correctable, so I’m looking forward to the third season.  Also, Downton is unusual in just how much time is spread out over a single season.  Years happen between episodes sometimes.  That’s neither here nor there, but I thought it bore mentioning.

23.  Boardwalk Empire

Boredwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire, like Sons of Anarchy earlier on this list, aspires to be a BIG series full of deep and meaningful themes, like The Sopranos, in particular, in this case, a show on which Boardwalk series creator Terrence Winter worked. It almost feels like the show was put together with The Sopranos as the ideal model, trying mathematically to adhere to the recipe that made the Sopranos so great, and hoping that after putting it all in the oven for 15 minutes, it would lead to a brilliant show.  The care put into the show is clear; the sheer filming technique is impressive and definitely significantly adds to the enjoyment.  That said, the formula doesn’t always click.  Main character Nucky Thompson is generally a strong one, packed with charisma and complexity, but few of the secondary characters can equal him, and those who could often don’t get the amount of screen time they need.  This problem was clearer in the third season than in the first two.  While there were several serious issues that made the season all right instead of very good, the biggest might have been that the creators chose the wrong secondary characters to get the bulk of screen time after Nucky gets his.  Whatever greatness is, I think it’s unlikely Boardwalk Empire is going to get there in more than glimpses and moments, but there is definitely plenty to enjoy in the craft if less so in some of the characters, and that alone makes it worth watching.

22.  Happy Endings

Happy Endings

The volume shooter of TV sitcoms, Happy Endings fires away jokes at breakneck speed, not even worrying about whether they hit or miss, because by the time they’ve thought about it, ten more jokes have been recited.  Like NBA volume shooters J.R. Smith and Jamal Crawford, this leads to serious consistency problems, but also periods of time where it seems like every joke (or shot) goes in.  There are six friends, they’re all grouped together differently for A, B, and sometimes C plots in various episodes, and they’ve got lots of inside jokes and pop culture references are often flying. Sometimes after time goes by without watching an episode, I’ll remember the show as mediocre, and then watch a good episode and recall what I liked about it.  Because of the way the show works, it’s never going to be an absolutely transcendent show the way, say, Community or personal favorite Party Down can be.  Sometimes an episode will work a lot better than others, and even in an episode where a lot works, some won’t.  The flip side is that the show has a high floor; even when everything’s not clicking on all cylinders, there’s an excellent chance of at least a couple of solid chuckles coming through.  I have a hard time being extremely passionate about this show; it’s not great and it took me a while to get into enjoying it at all.  That said, the more I’ve watched over the years, the more I’ve become to appreciate its quirks, and like the best shows of its type, the excellent chemistry enjoyed by the cast, which turns some percentage of those jokes from misfires to winners.  I originally had the show lower and moved it up because for the first time, this season, I realized I’d very much miss it if it was cancelled, and sometimes that emotional connection tells you something that your brain doesn’t; while this will never be a favorite, I genuinely like the show.

Quick Golden Globes Report

15 Jan

I don’t put a whole lot of stock in the Golden Globes as arbiters of quality.  If I had had any respect for the Globes before (which I probably didn’t), I didn’t after the Golden Globes were guilty, just like the Emmys, of failing to even NOMINATE The Wire, probably the greatest hour long show of all time, and in the top five at the absolute least.  This was a complete and utter lapse that would be a travesty if it wasn’t so obviously absurd as to render the award shows as jokes.  The Golden Globes even did the Emmys one worse, as the Emmys acknowledged the show existed in passing with two writing nominations.

I’m glad I got that scathing rant out of the way, but it seems some people still care about the Globes, and their shady Hollywood Foreign Press Association benefactors, so I’ll share a couple of thoughts I had on the awards.  Notice how Golden Globe award titles are needlessly cumbersome (Best Performance by an Actor instead of simply Best Actor, for example).

Pleasant surprises (and non-surprises):

Homeland, Best Television Series – Drama – Well, let’s get it out of the way first.  An award ceremony that does not nominate Breaking Bad in this category does not deserve to be able to give out awards, or certainly to be able to give out awards and have people care about them.  With that caveat, I’m very happy with the choice of Homeland, as it’s in that top tier with Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones and does richly deserve the award, as does Claire Danes.  I was strangely touched by Danes’ chance to thank her parents after she forgot when she won over a decade ago for My So-Called Life (only strange in that I’m not usually touched by anything).

Idris Elba, Best Performance in a Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television, Actor – I’ve never seen Luther, the British detective show for which Elba won.  Still, it was both disturbing and great at the same time to hear The Wire’s Stringer Bell talk with a British accent, and to see McNulty hug him as he went up the aisle to accept the award.

Downton Abbey, Best Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television – Let’s get this out of the way.  It’s not a miniseries, it’s a series.  There were 12 episodes of Homeland, and that’s a series.  There were 7 of Downton Abbey.  Where is the line?  (Is there an official line?)  That said, it’s good; I got on the bandwagon relatively late, and I’m encouraging others to jump aboard.  To 1910s Northern England!

Peter Dinklage, Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television, Actor – Not a surprise, as he won the Emmy.  Still, I’m always glad when Game of Thrones gets some recognition.  Tyrion is probably my favorite character in the books, and it doesn’t hurt that my first impression of him was as played by Dinklage.

Unpleasant surprises (or at least not quite pleasant enough to make it to pleasant surprises)

Michelle Williams, Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Actress – This has nothing to do with her performance.  Williams is nominated in the Best Actress, Musical or Comedy.  In what world is My Week With Marilyn a musical or comedy?

Modern Family, Best Series – Musical or Comedy – just kidding.  What’s the opposite of a surprise, doubled, and then cubed?  This is it.

Matt LeBlanc, Best Performance in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy, Actor – I don’t feel strongly about this category, but I thought this was a little surprising.  That said, the more I look over the nominees the more I realize there’s no obvious choice.  If it was three years ago, Alec Baldwin probably would have been.  If only Ty Burrell from Modern Family submitted into this category instead of Supporting Actor. Most of the best comedies on TV either don’t have definitive male leads (Parks and Recreation) or simply aren’t recognized by award shows.

Kelsey Grammer, Best Performance in a Television Series – Drama, Actor – I care less about Grammer than the fact that this should clearly go to Bryan Cranston.  Considering Breaking Bad couldn’t even get a show nomination though, it’s not particularly surprising.

Laura Dern, Best Performance in a Television Series – Comedy, Actress – I’m going to try to watch a midseason episode of Enlightened, and I hope I will personally be enlightened about the quality of the show.  From just the pilot though, I’m not getting the hype.

Show of the Day: Downton Abbey

12 Jan

I’ll admit, I had no idea what Downton Abbey was about other than being an English period drama until earlier this week.  In fact, I kept reading it incorrectly as “Downtown Abbey” which conjures a very different idea in the mind.  After watching the seven episode first season though, I’m certainly glad I know more about it now.

Downton Abbey is about the residents of the titular location, an estate in Northern England, including both the aristocratic family who run the Abbey, and the serving men and women who make the Abbey run.  A third economic class is introduced in the second episode when an upper middle class lawyer and his mother move into the Abbey because the lawyer has become the new heir to the title and estate after the old heir died in the Titanic disaster.

Downton Abbey is about as British as British gets.  It’s like Gosford Park without the murder.  (Note: I had absolutely no idea it was from the same writer as Gosford Park until I had finished five episodes, but it makes perfect sense.)  One of the essentially European aristocratic core issues at hand is the secession of the estate and title, as well as the marrying off of the three daughters of the current Lord and Lady of the estate.  Downton Abbey takes place at a crucial junction in time at which both love and position count in constituting a match, and the battle between the two occurs throughout the show.

Downton Abbey is a soap opera at its heart, a less serious show than critically acclaimed series of the period such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad.  However, it also deals with the class structure in an interesting, albeit generally unrealistically sunny and positive way.  The lord and lady of Downton Abbey are generally benelovent, but can’t avoid their learned feelings of noblesse oblige.  Even between the Lord and Lady, there are issues, as the lady is an American who Lord Grantham originally married for her money, which was necessary to save the estate.  The men and women of the serving class deal with vastly different problems than the aristocracy, largely, but also some similar programs.  Downton Abbey takes place at a similar time as far more serious show Boardwalk Empire, when the times are changing rapidly, but the characters largely try to change as little as absolutely necessary to adapt.  The biggest rift, aside from class, is generational, as the three daughters, to various degrees, are far more ready to embrace the less stratified world than their parents and grandparents.

I knew I was on board for good when I started rooting for and against characters, even yelling at my TV, and not in the angry at the show way, but in an angry at the characters way.  As far as the rogues gallery goes, Maggie Smith is fantastic as the cantankerous matriarch of the house, mother to the current lord, the Dowager Countess Violet.  She’s quick with an insult and is a protector of all things traditional, proper and conservative in the wake of attempts at forced changes to the social order from outside the estate.  Her foil is lawyer and new heir Matthew Crawley’s mother, who is the one character who is extremely progressive for her generation, and is the only character stubborn enough to not give in to the Dowager Countess, much to Smith’s dismay.

The most villainous characters are probably footman Thomas and maid Mrs. O’Brien, who are constantly scheming to get their personal nemesis valet Mr. Bates fired.  Bates, a newly hired footman at the beginning of the show, harbors some sort of secret, but seems a much better sort than Thomas (just one season of the show has me describing people as a “sort”).  Thomas is cruel to the other footman, William, and constantly flirts with cook’s assistant Daisy who is just about the only character who doesn’t realize that his affections are reserved for men.

Eldest daughter Mary I wouldn’t quite call a villain, but it’s frustrating watching her constant immaturity on display through the first season, as well as the way she treats her youngest sister Edith, drawing every man’s attention even when she’s not interested, just because she can.  Edith reciprocates with immature behavior to get back at Mary.  There are characters to root for as well.  Middle daughter Sybil is by far my favorite of the three (though the  other two have grown on me over time; it’s a sign of a good show when it’s able to make you like the characters you hated at first).  Sybil gets less screen time than Mary in the first season, but she’s the most political and most willing to attempt to break free from the social restrictions of the time.  Lord Grantham is better 1910s version of Tim Allen’s character in Last Man Standing.  Inherently conservative, but well-meaning, he’s caught between all the women in his life, including his daughters, wife and mother.  He wants to do what’s best within the narrow parameters he’s grown up with, but often ends up mediating a dispute between the women and takes a compromise position.  Matthew Crawley, the new heir, is a middle class lawyer, who struggles to fit into an aristocratic lifestyle.  He doesn’t always succeed, but he manages to turn general resentment from the family when he first arrives to sincere affection.

One note before I finish up: The strangest aspect of Downton Abbey is how quick it skips through time between episodes.  In the vast majority of TV shows, a season takes place over a single season or year, with episodes reasonable close together in time to one another.  Downton Abbey defies that convention.  The first episode takes place in 1912, but the show is in 1914 by season’s end, and the second season jumps even more.  This is hard to compute, given my understanding of traditional TV scheduling, and left me slightly discombobulated.  Eventually I was able to just accept that the primary reason for this seems to be to move into certain historical events (World War I!), and that nothing really important happens on the estate during the months we’re not seeing.