High Stakes For High Society In 'Gilded Age' Concert Hall Battle

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the scheming schemers of New York high society as an old concert hall wages a battle with a new opera house in the second season of “The Gilded Age” on HBO.

Who will win this war of wills? Will it be the old Academy of Music and its limited supply of exclusive boxes assigned to the city’s old society elite? 

Or will it be a new opera house designed with a greater number of these elegant seating enclosures capable of accommodating society’s burgeoning class of nouveau super rich?

I don’t know about anyone else, but I just don’t know who to root for here!



Welcome to the world of “The Gilded Age,” the drama series from “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes that tries to do for New York’s nineteenth-century upper crusties what “Downton” did for the British aristocracy clinging to their great houses in the 1910s and ’20s.

There is a lot to like in “The Gilded Age,” which starts its second season this coming Sunday on HBO and streaming on Max.

The production seems as sumptuously moneyed as the people it portrays. The show is set in great houses all its own, centered on the Gilded Age colossi on Fifth Avenue in New York and Bellevue Avenue in Newport.  

The interiors, clothes and furnishings feel authentic down to the last detail, especially in the show’s interior scenes that look like they were filmed inside some of these real landmarks.

By contrast, the exterior scenes that place the Fifth Avenue mansions in their 1880s context seem a little too reliant on CGI.

Over the many years that HBO has aired its various seasons of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” it has been fun to identify the bits and comedic subject matter that Larry David borrowed from “Seinfeld.”

Similarly, “The Gilded Age” invites comparisons with “Downton Abbey.” Both are chockfull of courtship storylines as family factions maneuver their daughters into marriages that will sustain their family names and wealth for another couple of generations.

In both shows, the upstairs mansion residents play their games of human chess as they strategize over seating arrangements and dinner invitations, while the downstairs staff gossips about their employers.

Both shows have some of the houses’ younger staff members making goo-goo eyes at each other. 

The world of closeted gay men both upstairs and downstairs have storylines in both shows too.

“The Gilded Age” tells the story of the tension between the old families of New York City who can trace their lineage back to the Dutch (or so they claim) and the new generation of mega-rich industrialists.

Some of these are name-dropped in the show -- Jay Gould, J. P. Morgan and William “Billy” Vanderbilt, to name three of them.

The biggest difference between “Downton Abbey” and “The Gilded Age” lies in the eras in which each of them came to television.

“Downton Abbey” became a Sunday, prime-time juggernaut for PBS for six seasons from 2011 to 2015. Many who saw it and became addicted still regard it as the best TV show they ever saw.

The years of the “Downton Abbey” phenomenon do not seem so long ago, but it was the era before streaming when a TV show with legs still had a chance of standing out, mainly because there were fewer shows then.

Today, “The Gilded Age” comes to TV with the same pedigree as “Downton Abbey,” but in a TV universe in which there are as many shows as stars in the sky.

One wonders if “The Gilded Age” would have become the same kind of phenomenon as “Downton Abbey” if it had aired instead of “Downton” on PBS from 2011 to 2015.

But like the worlds depicted in both shows, that world is gone with the wind.

 Season Two of “The Gilded Age” starts on Sunday (October 29) at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO and Max.

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