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Downton, the Gateway Drug

January 18, 2014

Have I mentioned we don’t have TV, and how not having TV is so last year?

Not having TV is code for: we have better things to do, like read the classics.

Not having TV is also code for: we are the elite.

But that was before Downton Abbey became crack for the elite. Wait: that was before Downton Abbey become crack for anyone with a weakness for good-looking people in bad situations, which is most of us.

During the first season I listened patiently to legions of people who told me how great it was, that it was a travesty bordering on emergency we hadn’t seen it, that we were missing out on some serious cultural fun.  Like any good caustic avoiding the quicksand of melodrama I’m thinking: they’re all the same, these Masterpiece shows. One person draped in silk walks languidly into a room and speaks to a person in tweed and there is a pause, someone puts down a book and strolls over to the window and looks out sadly, looks back and says one more word, and then it’s the next scene, which is pretty much the same except for the degrees of starch in the clothing. I’m thinking: I don’t have time for this. I like a little excitement. I like a show where one person wearing cheap polyester walks slowly into a room and says something to another person, shots break out, and they all sit down and eat pasta.

I can’t chime in about the show. It’s bigger than me. It’s conspicuous, like a fake accent. Like I have been living on a compound or something.  I have to keep changing the subject whenever it comes up, in public and in private.  I’m starting to wonder if my lack of curiosity is passe and dangerously quaint, on the brink of being more studied than the show itself.  

When my daughter and I notice the first season on Netflix, our excuses for avoiding the series crumble like a house of shortbread. We glance at each other. What harm could there be in trying it once? And so it happens: we watch the first episode of the first season. Then the next. Then —  in the space of a weekend – the second season. Still in our pajamas in mid-afternoon, we are as hollow-eyed as Lady Sybil in the grips of preclampsia. We are speaking in clipped tones. My daughter is calling me Mum. I can hardly bear to open my closet for the clothes that will never hang there, that haunt my other clothes like ghosts. And the baby. Who will take care of her?

Then the dreadful news. What? We must wait a month for the next? How will we pass the time? Could another series stave off the pangs? A friend tells us to try Jewel and the Crown.  They tell us it will hold us over in a pinch. We don’t believe them.

We watch the next season in lockstep with everyone in the States, and debrief in unison. We have pitched our feigned indifference like Lady Edith’s fiance dropped her at the altar.  We watch aghast and share in  a collective gasp as Matthew, tooling along in his motorcar, gets shoved off the road by a lorry and stares up — glassy-eyed and clearly dead — from a ditch. Oh God no! Why couldn’t he just have broken his arm? Answer: He has s contract to go on Broadway. Do I have to tell you everything?

When a polar vortex is scheduled to hit the midwest on the first night of the fourth season, I consider whether it could be worth ordering a cable box, so we won’t have to leave our living room in arctic winds. The box arrives and lays around the living room. I am afraid to open it.

I get all tense, wondering if we can figure out how to set it up. Where are my glasses? Why is the print so fine? Where is the cord? Where, for the love of God, is the outlet?

Naturally, we miss the show. And here I am over my salad, fending off tears.

What happened to you? my daughter says, so calmly. You’re acting all crazy. We can watch it anytime.

WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU? I cry, in a stage whisper, as if someone else were in the house listening. DON’T YOU CARE ANYMORE?

And then it hits me: I feel like I should be there in the audience, in real time.  They worked so hard for us, having all of those terrible things happen and being so brave and all. It’s like they’re back, I said, they are expecting us, and we are not there. Don’t worry, my daughter says, they are still there, and they will certainly see you when you show up at the door, and invite you in for tea — if only to the kitchen.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2014 6:32 pm

    You do know you can watch the entire episode the day after online (look for PBS masterpiece)? This has saved me from many a nervous spasm (which is what I have these days instead of wigging out, thanks to Downton). 🙂

  2. Matt Nicodemus permalink
    January 19, 2014 7:26 am

    Gateway to what else? I still haven’t seen a single episode. Perhaps someday… I was very enthused by the first episode of the PBS series, Mr. Selfridge, starring Jeremy Piven (an ETHS grad), but somehow the remaining episodes we recorded disappeared.

  3. ReLynn Hansen permalink
    January 20, 2014 5:10 am

    This is so very excellent. Thank you for writing it. Having my earl grey now. Rlh Sent from my iPhone

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