Ups and Downs with Downton Abbey

I’ve a weak spot for historicals, any time period, but it’s not an itch I regularly scratch. I’d heard lots of good things about Downton Abbey (as it appeared non-stop in my Twitter and Tumblr feeds) so I decided it was time to take a peek.

The sets are fantastic. Costumes, too. (Giving me a bit of an early 20th Century fashion fetish, actually.) The characters are deeply compelling — troubled, honorable, conflicted, jealous, loyal. The class conflicts are among my favorite bits, really driving the interpersonal relationships. In the second season, the first World War breaks out, and this puts all of their relationships, and their society, under terrific pressure. I’m just now at the point where the war is over and Downton has been returned to its pre-war state. How will the characters, some wounded, some with tested and broken loyalties, emerge?

And yet, I find myself getting impatient with the series.

Most of the conflict is interpersonal, so by necessity there is going to be a lot of talk. Which is fine. Baring a few early “as you knows” that made my eyebrow arch up like a Vulcan, the dialogue is often good, and in a few places really juicy. But for the vast majority of the time when they are talking, they are doing some utterly irrelevant task that stops by the time the talk gets going. It could be a radio play; it would lose next to nothing except the cinematography. I hate to say it, but I put it on and listen to the dialogue and do other things while it plays. It is interesting to see how these people lived in this time period — how they dressed, how they ate, how they worked — but none of these tasks, when they are shown to us, have any connection to the dialogue taking place between characters. You could pull out the action and substitute something else in almost every situation and it would make no difference.

Which annoys me. The way the characters develop over time is fascinating, but they aren’t doing anything interesting! There was one moment when two characters were given a mission to scout along the enemy line — and then they cut away to house and then start talking again. Arg!

And yet, they do these interesting things with body language and haunted looks, really subtle, soft moments that keep me watching.

I just wish they were doing something, dammit!

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