Downton Abbey PBS

February 20, 2012 by staff 

Downton Abbey PBS, What are we to make of the second season of Downton Abbey? Over the past few weeks the costume drama “masterpiece” (cough) has morphed into a very different beast. A beast that lives on a farm, goes “oink oink” and smells very strongly of ham. The important question is: does it matter?

In some ways, Downton season two has been even more enjoyable because it is so (unintentionally?) funny. Even die-hard fans – and I still include myself in this category – have struggled to keep a straight face through 99% of this season.

In the early episodes there was some debate about the season’s success. Some still argued (dementedly, in my view) that Downton was just the same as it had always been. But in recent weeks – and certainly since the ludicrous arrival and almost immediate disappearance of Bandaged Patrick, Who Might be the Rightful Heir if Only We Could Be Bothered to Flesh Out This Part of the Script – these voices have gone quiet.

It seemed from the outset that something was not quite right with Downton: this season was assembled in haste and it was as if there was a form of “we can get away with anything” over-excitement at work. Sometimes the show has picked up some of the momentum of season one. But often it has seemed drunk on its own success, introducing random plot points (everything about Patrick, Mrs Bird’s soup kitchen, Lady Edith’s blink-and-you-miss-them pseudo-dalliances) and dropping them without developing them.

The clunky telegraphing of information and over-use of expositional dialogue have been this season’s biggest downfall. Poor Hugh Bonneville (the Earl of Grantham) had to give a whole speech looking into the middle-distance about how – guess what? – a lot of men had died in the first world war. It was insulting to him as an actor: he can portray all that in one look. Many of our favourite characters have been betrayed, too. Anna and Bates’s romance is no longer interesting. Cousin Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) has been woefully under-used, and so has Thomas (Rob James-Collier).

Downton Abbey … Maggie Smith as the Countess of Grantham. Photograph: Nick Brigg/ITV
Perhaps most disappointing has been that the dynamic between villains and goodies in the house has crumbled.

Perversely, given that creator Julian Fellowes has tried to cram so much into this season, the story has lacked any real detail. Season one was at its best when it concentrated on minute plot points – a missing bottle of wine, a btchy moment between two sisters, Mrs Patmore’s failing eyesight – and made us care about them. Because Downton has such a superb cast, this worked brilliantly: it was all about rivalry, betrayal, repressed sexuality, humiliation, passion, ambition. And all the action happened on the actors’ faces.

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