New Obsession: Downton Abbey

Today, I was supposed to be posting a recap and review of last night’s Switched at Birth. But instead, I have spent all day (and all last night) watching the first season of something else…

Lord Crawley sees his family heritage, especially the grand country home Downton Abbey, as his mission in life. The death of his heir aboard the Titanic means distant cousin Matthew Crawley, a Manchester lawyer, suddenly is next in line and accepts moving onto the vast estate with his even more modernist, socially engaged mother, who clashes with his lordship’s domineering, conservative ma the dowager. Marrying off the daughters is another concern. Meanwhile the butler presides over a staff which serves the family but also lead most of their entire lives in the servants quarters, intriguing amongst themselves.

For months, I’ve had everyone tell me I need to watch this show. I have heard amazing things about it, and everyone I know seems to love it. But I have to be really in the mood for a periodical TV show in order to watch it. I’ve been known to have full periodical themed weekends where I watch, basically every movie inspired by a Jane Austen novel along with the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice (you know, the one that is three hours long). But I have to be in one of those moods.

Last night, while scrolling through my HuluPlus account, I saw that the first season was available streaming. I clicked, thinking that I’d only get through the first episode then I’d head to bed. I didn’t plan on it sucking me in. Three hours later, I had to force myself to turn off the television and go to bed.

Though the show has merit to watch it on its own, the prime reason I decided I would watch it was for this woman.
Dame Maggie Smith (aka, Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter films) was the reason I even knew this show existed. I’m one of those people who will watch shows just because an actor is in it. She is one of those actors. And I’m glad that I picked this show up for her.

Though the pilot (like all pilots) is a bit slow, after the second episode is when it started to get really good. With the introduction of Matthew and his mother Isobel (played by the great Penelope Wilton, who also played “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister” in Doctor Who), things really start to get interesting within the families.

One of the ways that this show differs from most period pieces is that it shows the lives of the staff. Most shows and movies have the staff as background characters that occasionally speak. The staff of Downton Abbey all have their own lives, and more importantly, their own stories.

This show does an excellent job at balancing the stories between members of the staff and members of the house, keeping both storylines equally interesting and easily remembered. With a cast this big, it’s easy for a character to become forgotten. The writers of this show remind us of what each character is going through every they’re brought on the screen.

If you’ve considered picking this show up, but are a bit weary, I highly suggest you give it just a few episodes. Don’t stop at just the first one. It’s worth the time you put into it.

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