When I saw the news this week that a “Downton Abbey Exhibit” would be touring the country, I must admit that my first thought was: “Oh, brother.”
Now, that was not fair of me. I am addicted to roughly hundreds of British TV series, so I shouldn’t look down my nose at any British programme that others choose to love. But I can’t honestly say that 1. I watched all of Downton Abbey, or 2. That I miss it, at all.
I stuck with most of the first season, but my primary question throughout that was, “I’m sorry, are we supposed to be cheering for Lady Mary to find love AND get to keep Downton? Because I can’t stand her.” So that was a problem. And it seemed that every time I tuned in in later seasons something violent was always happening, and I gotta be honest, violence in seemingly every episode is just more violence than I need in my period costume dramas.
I was clearly in the minority on this point. Do you know how many people watched Downton Abbey? A lot. A lot a lot:
When the fifth season premiered on PBS in the U.S. in January of 2015, it did so to more than ten million viewers—10.1 million viewers, as a matter of fact. (For scale, current UK population is just above sixty million people.) In the UK, nearly 7 million people in the UK watched the series finale, while in the US, again, nearly 10 million people caught the series finale. (For some idea of scale, one of the more popular US network dramas, This Is Us, blew away expectations for its viewership by garnering 12.9 million viewers overall for its second season premiere.)
So yeah, it was popular. But, for my money, there’s any number of British dramas I would rather re-watch before I’d spend time viewing all of Downton. They include, but are not limited to:
Ballykissangel, a drama from the 1990s, set in Ireland and featuring, in the early seasons, a doomed love affair between a Father Peter Clifford, a Catholic priest, and Assumpta Fitzgerald, the community’s pub owner. Later seasons featured a variety of revolving community-based storylines, as well as a plethora of personal relationship problems among its ensemble cast.
All Creatures Great and Small, a drama set in 1930s and World War II-era Yorkshire, based on the memoirs by James Herriot about his life as a country veterinarian. Granted, you may have to see a bit more animal husbandry than you might want (please note: diagnosing a cow’s illness often involves a vet putting on a long plastic glove and proceeding to feel his way into a cow’s back end), but on the plus side, it’s both serious and fun, and involves lots of Peter Davison.
Call the Midwife. Another historical drama, this one set in 1950s and 60s East London, focusing on the adventures of a group of nuns and midwives whose mission it is to provide prenatal and obstetric care for the area’s (often very poor) women. It can be a bit much too, but feels sweeter at its core to me than Downton did.
Lark Rise to Candleford. Another literary adaptation, this time of autobiographical novels by Flora Thompson, about a young woman’s adventures seeking to train as a postmistress in the later 1800s.
I can recommend the latter two in particular as doing a lot better job of showcasing close and sustaining female friendships than did Downton Abbey, in which all of the women seemed mainly to be at other women’s throats (or at least it just seemed that way to me; every time I watched Lady Mary was trying to stick it to her sister Edith somehow).
So skip the Downton Abbey exhibit, and spread some love to some other UK drama series instead!