There are plenty of intellectual reasons to watch Downton Abbey. The period costumes are breathtaking, the dynamic between classes is intriguing, your girlfriend is making you, and it’s an intimate look at all the working cogs at the estate of an Earl during the social and economic shift occurring in 1920s Europe. And none of these reasons are the actual reasons we watch. They’re the reasons we have in our back pocket in case someone important asks us what we like on TV, but the true draw of Downton Abbey has more to do with us sitting at home with an air of superiority, relishing in the silly people doing stupid things while driving around old-timey cars. Here are six things we love to hate about Downton Abbey:
1. The Formula
Once the whole “Who will be the heir to the Downton estate?” problem was wrapped up in a neat little package, (and then run off the road in a bloody heap), all the show’s drama fell on the shoulders of the interclass love affair. It was fresh and unexpected at first, and watching Branson woo Sybil was a welcome vacation from watching Mary be a brat, but then came Edith and the random farmer, long-since-gone Ethel Parks and her affair with the military major, and when Branson the driver became Tom the widower, he was chased around by a brash maid for a while. They really spiced things up though when they threw kooky Cousin Rose in the mix. I can’t wait to see what she going to- oh, oh, fall in love with a charming, lower class chap. Twice.
And still, we appreciate it, because without it, all we’d have left to do is watch Bates and Anna stare at each other with either doe-eyed affection or woeful concern, depending on whether or not Bates feels like murdering someone that day.
2. Bored Branson
I can’t hate too hard on Branson, because in my opinion, he’s the most likable character on the show, but I can’t help but think his deep struggle for an identity is more like a gloomy teenager complaining that he has nothing to do. He’s given up his political activism, because trying to make the world a better place with unlimited resources, a wealth of connections, and an Earl in your back pocket is just too, um…
And it’s not like he can make himself useful by overseeing the farmland once it’s established, no. I mean, sure, he’s got a knowledge of farming and an understanding of the working class, but he’s, uh…
I mean sure, there’s still Ireland, where he picked up and moved once, and that was going really well, living a simple life in his home country but, see…
No, poor Branson will just have to sit and sulk in the corner at fancy dinner parties, rebuffing all polite conversation while he complains that he has no one to talk to. Then he’s going to move to America, where the Irish are welcomed with open arms, on the brink of the Great Depression, because, obviously, it’s the best solution for him and little Sybbie.
And still we appreciate him. Because he looks like Niall from One Direction. (That’s why I appreciate him, anyway.)
3. Cora’s Creepy Face
It’s obvious that Lady Grantham doesn’t have a malicious bone in her body, but somehow she delivers good news with the crazed stare of someone who just poisoned your drink and is waiting for you to keel over. It doesn’t lose its potency when she’s concerned either; my hat’s off to Lord Grantham for crawling into bed when the pillow talk is anything but sanguine. With each new episode it seems to become more and more intense, and pleas for Robert to be reasonable have turned from grating to hilarious.
And so, we appreciate it. Because it begs for a Kristen Wiig parody.
4. Isobel Crawley
Bored Branson could take a page out of her book, but just one, please. Isobel Crawley could canvas the streets of Berkeley with the best of them, but unfortunately, she doesn’t have quite such a willing audience and so, to get the job done, she sermonizes the needs of the lowlifes of Ripon to a herd of upper class aristocrats whose idea of philanthropy is mostly spotting their servants the cash for a medical procedure or trip to London. It exhausts me as much as it exhausts them, but at least I have a mute button. Once they’re worn down, she marches out of Downton with a smug look on her face and floats home on a cloud of sanctimony.
Yet, we appreciate it, because her constant badgering in the spirit of public service often falls on the ears of the Dowager Countess, a.k.a. SassMaster Supreme, and nothing satisfies a Downton watcher like a good dig from ol’ Granny.
5. Peeping Thomas
Thomas has been seeking to destroy people’s lives since early in season one, sometimes for personal gain, sometimes for vengeance, sometimes for seemingly no reason at all, and nearly every member of the serving staff has been burned by him. It always spices things up and leaves you with a little anxiety, but it’s getting harder and harder to believe that one of the tallest and least trusted staff members of the seemingly endless estate continually has the time and good fortune of lurking just out of sight while various members of the family and staff speak audibly in cavernous rooms about all kinds of sordid gossip. What does he do all day?
But of course, we appreciate him. As unrealistic as it is that he has a vice grip on everyone at Downton, he’s one of the more interesting and complex characters, and if everyone was as bland as Anna and as rigid as Carson we’d have nothing to agonize over other than Mr. Moseley’s snoozefest of a mid-life crisis.
6. Lady Edith Hasn’t a Fuck Left to Give
We’ve been watching her make terrible decisions since day one, but her vague need to impress the family has dissipated, and good for her, since literally no one paid an ounce of attention to her until her ill-fated wedding day, and not since, either. As of late she’s been running to London to carry on a relationship with an older, married man, who has gone mysteriously missing, (he’s totally going to resurface as a Nazi, right?) all while carrying his illegitimate child. Her constant weeping hasn’t gone unnoticed, though. Intermittently, she’ll receive a pat on the head and assurance that everything will be fine, as if she’s some kind of whining puppy. For every moment we shake our heads in disbelief at her latest misfortune, we roll our eyes at her family’s oblivion.
But we appreciate her most of all because she houses the juiciest drama and manages to do so without coming across as a drama queen. I fantasize a series finale in which she goes all Carrie on the operation, walking away from a burning Abbey, bastard child and Nazi lover in tow. Majestic, shocking, and yet, anticlimactic; so very Edith.