jonathan elliott goes downtown with everyone’s favorite Brits…
You know, I love Downton Abbey. And I cut it some slack where I shouldn’t; it can get away with ridiculousness that, say, Homeland can’t (and Homeland definitely tried this last season…) due to its sudsy and lush world that mashes up historical accuracy and the soapiest of plotlines. Let’s face it, y’all—Downton makes Gossip Girl look like CSPAN.
And last night’s two hour (!!!) premiere was pretty much exactly on par with expectations, featuring: a wedding, some delicious Maggie Smith cattiness in Dowager form, prison chats, financial woes, arguments about which jacket to wear at what time of day, and Shirley MacLaine being both awesome and hideous as the newest addition to our sprawling household of wacky folk.
So, it’s spring 1920, and our dear Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is mired in the prim pomp and circumstance of the past. The thing is, change is in the air, and some of those formalities are starting to thaw: Sibyl (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Branson (Allen Leech) seem uber-happy with their new life together in Dublin, and even Cora, with all her ballast of “keeping up appearances,” seems just about over it all. And in comes the winds of change given human form, as her mother, Martha (Ms. MacLaine) drops in for a visit from America. She’s got all the subtlety of a brick to the face, and she hammers home the point: the world is changing socially and economically, and Downton had best prepare itself.
I did mention a wedding—and yes, this premiere pivots on the nuptials of Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Mary (Michelle Dockery), which I think we’ve all been waiting for since the mid-nineties. They have the sort of love I’m pretty sure Oasis would write songs about, if, y’know, the Gallagher brothers were about 80 years older. Anyway, Robert (Bonneville) spends most of the episode fussing about the wedding, until he’s called to London and told that some bad Canadian investments have withered away a huge chunk of Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) fortune (lesson learned: Canadians are bad with money). But hey, it’s all okay, because suddenly, Matthew inherits some money from Lavinia’s (Zoe Boyle) brother, and there’s something about other heirs in India, and blah blah blah, the important thing is that it’s enough money to possibly save Downton.
Anyway, there’s like six tearful confrontations between Mary and Matthew about the money, and whether or not he loved Lavinia, and she cries a lot and throws a letter down and runs off at one point, and we all wonder if the marriage is on or off. Well, spoiler alert: it happens. And, uh, we don’t really see it. We get some time with Mary and Robert in a dad-daughter moment, and we see her walk down the aisle, but then we skip the ceremony and go right to them returning from the honeymoon. Downton, you’re a tease.
Anyway, Mary returns and the rest of the episode is all about asking Grandma Levinson for a cash infusion. And somehow, that means a dinner party where everything goes wrong. Matthew and Robert don’t have the right clothes to wear (such a horror!), and somehow it becomes an “indoor picnic” at Martha’s request, which feels like the worst potluck ever. Someone basically says it feels like a speakeasy. Uh, it’s bread and cheese on a plate and you can plop down wherever you please. C’mon.
Anyway, Martha says her money can’t save Downton. Fiscal cliff ahoy! Must our clan move into a smaller house? OH NO!
There’s all sorts of subplot motion, too. Branson is all Irish and political and it pisses people off, he’s drugged by a former suitor of Sybil’s and it makes him all typically drunk and Irish, but then that’s scuttled away. Edith (Laura Carmichael) pines for Sir Anthony (Robert Bathurst), and is just all sorts of super-depressing. Bates (Brendan Coyle) is still in jail for wife-murdering, and Anna’s (Joanne Fraggatt) playing detective. It’s sort of boring.
Oh, and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) has breast cancer.
All in all, a lot happened but it sort of felt like a big conversation about nothing, which made me sort of sad.
I got a lot happier, however, when I happened upon the sudden realization that Shirley MacLaine now looks exactly like Jack Lemmon’s character in drag from Some Like It Hot. It’s all I can see. And it’s awesome.
So, here’s hoping for some juicy motion next week, loves. See you in seven.