The answer is… nothing. Nothing is funny about Downton Abbey — or compelling, or even mildly entertaining for that matter. Not anymore, and not for a long time.
Last night, American viewers flocked to season four’s finale with hope in our hearts — despite all that has come before — and we were let down. It was sad, like Lady Edith. So today I’m one of many bloggers bemoaning what Downton Abbey has become, thanks to Julian Fellows and his writing staff. (At least I assume he has a writing staff; finding a group of people who can collectively churn out such awful storylines and dreadful dialogue must take some doing.)
Like anyone who appreciates smart, imaginative television, I go nuts when a series that once captivated me starts to implode. It’s even worse when the season ends without an enticing twist to make me nostalgic: “Well, maaaaybe I’ll give that show one more chance.” Think Homeland, which deteriorated over time, with a plot so frenetic and characters so deliriously overwrought my head is still spinning. Yet a fourth season approaches, and Brody is DEAD, Carrie is about to GIVE BIRTH, Saul is ON A MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE and Dana is STILL VERY RESENTFUL. Anything can happen, right? I’m not ready to let go!
Meanwhile back at Downton, Julian Fellows appears completely out of ideas. Lady Mary Crawley has emerged from mourning her late husband (and cousin) Matthew Crawley, and make no bones about it — her shingle is OUT and she’s open for business. She is dangling not one, not two, but three suitors with the chilly efficiency of… Lady Mary Crawley, the season one version. Aside from her elusive baby George, and her sudden interest in profitable pig farming, Mary has not evolved one bit.
Her hangdog sister Lady Edith is still the unluckiest character England’s fictional aristocracy has ever seen. In the first three seasons, Edith was dumped twice by Anthony – the second time at the altar. She also fell hard for a mysterious World War I veteran, wrapped in more bandages than an Egyptian mummy. He too flew the coop, as NPR’s Linda Holmes blogged, “as quickly as a writer who suddenly realizes he has no idea where this plotline is going.”
At the start of season four, Edith falls in love with Michael Gregson, a London newspaper editor. He’s married but his wife is mad. (Julian Fellows, meet Charlotte Brontë.) While he’s planning a trip to Germany – sure to be a romantic paradise for generations to come! — for a quickie divorce, he and Edith enjoy a quickie of a different sort, and she ends up in a family way.
Of course she does, because she’s Lady Edith.
Alas, Michael disappears on his first night in Berlin after a run in with a band of Nazis(!), forcing Edith to flee to Switzerland for nine months with Aunt Rosalind to (a-HEM), “learn French”. She has her baby there – a girl she puts up for adoption — then returns to Downton, her absence having scarcely registered.
Nearly every other plotline on Downton Abbey is now superfluous. Tom the ex-chauffer remains in a limbo state, wrestling with his socialist conscience while enjoying port and cigars in the Downton drawing room. He flirts with a suffragette and considers moving to America. (I’d offer to help him pack.)
Thomas still schemes, engineering the hiring of lady’s maid Baxter, who he is blackmailing – with what, after nine episodes, we still don’t know. And there’s Bates and Anna, Molesley, James the pretty boy footman, Alfred and Ivy and, um… ZZZZZZ.
And so it is after four seasons: I’m through with the Crawleys and everyone who works below stairs at Downton Abbey. Sunday night simply must have more to offer.
Come to think of it, Baseball — America’s pastime — resumes in April and there’s always a Sunday night game on Fox Sports.
Blimey, enough with the manor born. It’s time to put down the Pimms cups, strap on your athletic cups (not you, ladies) and PLAY BALL!