“Downton Abbey” runs on the same network as “The X Factor” on its home turf, so it may be unfair to chide producers for chasing ratings back in the United Kingdom. Yet, two events could have viewers questioning whether the pursuit of ad dollars in the U.K. will hurt the quality of the show, which runs stateside on the non-Simon Cowell-esque PBS.
One was word that Shirley MacLaine would be joining the cast for season three. She may be a well-lauded actor, but one of the charms of the costume drama, which takes place at an English country home in the early 20th century, has been the discovery of new talent, at least for many U.S. viewers.
On the flip side, Maggie Smith is well known and has been one of the show’s gems, so MacLaine could provide similar excellence.
The other cause for concern has to be how last season ended with a stomach-churning would-be climactic scene. It would be wrong to give away the contents since there is time for non-converts to catch up before next season. Suffice it to say, though, it was far too predictable, cornball, saccharine, schmaltzy and mawkish. With that, it was actually anti-climactic. The writer, the esteemed Julian Fellowes, took the easy way out and may have gotten a bit greedy in searching for audience afection.
Season one of “Downton” was some of the best television around. Only great shows, though, get better as they go along and “Downton” did not meet that standard with its second season. Hopefully, it will recover.
It was heartening to catch one of the stars make negative comments about season two in the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps that will impact Fellowes & Co.
Elizabeth McGovern, who plays the American wife of the lord of the great house, told the Times regarding complaints that the show moved to quickly in the second season: "I was feeling that a little myself. It's kind of a taste thing, and the show in the first season was more to my taste than the show in the second season."
The show's appeal is manifold and in that way personal. There are the brilliantly defined characters and period costumes. Fellowes has also succeeded in weaving together how the privileged and the help relate to one another, while maintaining their own worlds.
Speaking about "Downton's" popularity, McGovern told the Times:
"Maybe it's an escape from what I perceive as the nastiness of a lot of television that's just trying to be cutting edge, the things very prevalent on TV today with everyone trying to outshock each other," she said. "There's a nastiness that's happened. I think there's something about 'Downton Abbey' that people find it to be relieving -- essentially that these characters are quite nice."
Regardless why the show resonates, hopefully the showrunners will return their focus to a sense of authenticity that made season one so energizing.