Why do I love Downton Abbey?
First and foremost, because it’s a great show. But also because I think there are a lot of things that American audiences—and hence American audiences— can learn from it and/or imitate to great success.
Of course, I love the fact that it’s a history lesson. The research on the show is fastidious and fascinating and allows for a real, personal window into everything from the dissolving state of traditional British social structure as the Empire fell to the rising heat of Sinn Fein in Ireland. There are things both sympathetic and empathetic about the show without being saccharine. Big events are simply events and not Very Special Episodes. Like real life.
The acting is of course phenomenal. The subtlety with which these writers and actors have managed to move the characters to discernably different places in their lives without drawing attention to it is amazing to watch. Your attachment to these characters grows over time, and your sympathies to even the most reprehensible of them grows as well. Everyone is human. To draw a nerd example to it, it’s like the best virtues of Deep Space Nine…but better.
The storyline is linear, but not sequential. Years pass between episodes. Sometimes weeks. It varies depending on what the story needs. This provides for a more robust set of possibilities with everything as the show doesn’t try to rationalize the ages of the actors visibly varying from where they should be for those points in the story.
(In fact, now that I think about it, it’s like the stronger aspect of the Star Wars prequels—instead of the sense of immediacy, there’s a desire to tell the most important parts of the larger story, including the politics, without being bogged in minutiae. Also, telling the politics through the points of view of the people affected by it. Kinda neat.)
So that’s it in a nutshell. I’m far from the first to discover the charm of the show, but I hope I’m not the last. This is one of those shows that could happily make a difference to the entire television landscape for the better.
Like when they adapted that British show for Three’s Company. Only with less slapstick.