What is it that makes Downton Abbey so addictive, and so universally liked?
From the beginning, we at the Library were hooked by the show’s ability to transport us to a world reminiscent of Jane Austen novels. Although set a several decades ahead of Austen, Downton Abbey similarly takes us back to life on an aristocratic English estate, to a time of ladies and gentleman, a place where many readers have always somewhat felt more at home.
No Internet or cell phones? How quaint! No jobs to do but entertain, manage the estate, or for the servants, cook and clean? Oh, how we long for that simpler time! Class issues? These only make for more intense romantic relationships! Of course, we immediately loved the whole reverse Darcy-Elizabeth thing we saw happening with Mary and Matthew.
Did we mention the beautiful dresses? The accents? The love, lust and drama?
So we at the library were early adopters. We were not tough sells. A show with all the appeal of an ongoing Austen novel, on PBS? What more needed to be said?
But before we knew it, everyone we knew seemed to be watching the show. We mean eve-ry-body. Our family members. Our neighbors. Our friends who like Judd Apatow movies. Our boyfriends and husbands who like Jackass movies.
What was it about the show that appealed to them? They seemed at a loss to explain it themselves. “I don’t know what it is about this show – I just love it so much!” seemed to be a common utterance by many a fan after devouring an entire season of the show over the course of a weekend.
If you ask us, we think the broad appeal of Downton can be attributed to how well it plays to four primary appeal factors: character, plot, setting, and tone. The characters feel like family. The plot is fast-paced and exciting, jumping from one intense situation to another. The setting is vivid and transportive. The tone is dramatic and serious, but with great splashes of humor, romance, fun and excitement.
Of these four factors, though, we think the success of Downton hinges of its characters more than anything else. The characters are fabulously deep and varied. They are lovable in their virtuousness and undying love of one another (Bates! Anna!). They are despicable in their holding of grudges and seeking of vengeance (Thomas! O’Brien!) Most of all, the majority are supremely relatable in their mix of vice and virtue, their internal conflict between doing what convention dictates and doing what is right, and their flawed but ultimately well-meaning natures (Mary! Matthew! Mr. Carson! Lord Grantham! et. al.)
At the end of the day, it’s our feeling as though we know the cast of characters, loving them and loathing them in them in turns them as if we knew them personally, that keeps us coming back for more. Because we care so much, we can’t keep ourselves from tuning in to see which of will end up dead, imprisoned, pregnant, married, etc.
Downton Abbey, Seasons 1-3, are our You Gotta Check This Out “Pick of the Week!” Check one out today.