Downton Abbey: intelligent social commentary, or soap opera?

Before even beginning this post, I will admit: I have quickly fallen in love with Downton Abbey. I knew I would get to watching a show that had so much buzz about it, as well as an impressive haul of awards, but I didn’t think I would get into it so quickly. Thanks, Netflix. In just a couple of days, I have nearly completed the first two seasons. I realize there is much more to the show out there, but I feel this is a good start.

As much as I have enjoyed the stellar acting and engaging storylines, I must wonder if this show is really, really smart, or is just pulling the wool over our eyes and having us watch a soap opera with fancy costumes?

Well played. Now I am hooked.
Well played. Now I am hooked.

Some of the stories come straight out of the afternoon soaps: the gossip, affairs, back stabbing, murder (attempted murder?), pregnancy, sisterly fights, inter marriages, war, the gay character, strange and unexplained death. Don’t get me wrong, I like these stories and plan to keep watching to find out what will happen. But isn’t this exactly what a soap does? Throws preposterous storylines at us knowing that we have already become too invested to give up on the characters we have come to love or hate?

On the flip side, Downton Abbey does offer viewers the fun and somewhat unique (if you ignore the fact that it is basically Gosford Park as a TV series) glimpse into the lives of the elites, and those who serve them. There is very much an upstairs/downstairs separation between the characters, each set living their own lives. Yet, there is a fair amount of interaction between the two halves of the world, and it is interesting to see how each side will gossip about the other, while becoming close and friendly with them. It is kind of endearing, and all of the help on the show is wonderful. They are prideful people who respect their lots in life and take their jobs seriously. This is perhaps where the series is at its best.

But are they trying to do this, or is it simply just there because of the setting? Or because it provides us with two groups of people that we can discuss and gossip about, while they do the same?

High end literary television or not, this show is addictive and fun.

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