Tuesday, September 11, 2012

YEAR OF THE SOAP: Why is DOWNTON ABBEY So Popular? Will Season 3 Be Just as Good?

In recent BBC coverage of the lead-in to DOWNTON ABBEY's season three (United Kingdom) premiere, it seems no one in London can stop talking about America, how successful DOWNTON is here, and the secret of the series' success.

"I went to New York and me and Lesley got recognized. It was so weird... we never get recognized in London or a place like that!" exclaims Sophie McShera, DOWNTON's beleagured kitchen maid, Daisy.

"We were absoutely mobbed with people," confirms Lesley Nicol, who plays a character named Beryl, better known as the visually-challenged cook.

"That doesn't happen here, no. Not that they don't like it here, they do, but there's something else going on over there. It makes them a bit crackers!" she laughs.

"They're so good to us."

Can we take a moment here, DOWNTON fans, just to savor the image of "Daisy" and "The Cook" on the town, together, in The Big Apple? Riding the Cyclone together, mourning at Ground Zero, cutting the line at Webster Hall... "Brilliant!" as the Brits say.

Speaking of which, as they are wont to do, the BBC went out of its way yesterday to offer "analysis" of the DOWNTON situation in America. I found their explanation for DOWNTON's success unintentionally interesting. Not because they weren't stating the obvious - they were - but because they could have answered the question the same way using just eight words:

"Because it's a very well-done soap opera."

First, they cite writer and co-creator Julian Fellowes:

He thinks Downton's "modern pace" compared with other costume dramas is key.

"When you are watching one of those old ones on DVD, you have to sort of calm down. You say to yourself 'Now this is a long ride,' whereas I don't think with us you do. It looks like a traditional, lovely, classic British television series, with lovely costumes and houses and all that stuff. But actually it has the rhythm of a more modern show, with lots of different stories happening at once and you have to concentrate.

A bunch of different plotlines happening at the same time? Sounds familiar... go on...

Jim Carter, who plays butler Mr Carson, one of a handful of Downton stars in the running for acting Emmys on 23 September, says: "It's the age old thing, people like stories. The fact that it's period, I mean it could be set in space. If you've got good characters and good stories, people will follow them."

Strong, character-driven stories! A-ha! What else?

Dan Stevens'(Cousin Matthew's) character's will-they, won't-they love story with Lady Mary, played by Michelle Dockery, was central to the first two series.

Of course! Interminable, on-again, off-again romances. A third pillar of the soap opera genre. But will the twists and turns die down, now that DOWNTON's supercouple is planning their wedding?

"There are certainly a few thrills and spills to come, let's put it that way," promises Stevens. "And, uh, as anybody who's married knows, it's not all plain sailing after the wedding either. So yeah, there's definitely some ups and downs to come."

Nicol (The Cook) is, once again, more direct.

"I genuinely promise that there are as many highs and lows as there always have been... it's only two years this time, but it's a lot going on, still. And I think there will be some major shocks. Major shocks."

Season three of DOWNTON ABBEY, my favorite British soap opera, begins Sunday, September 16 on ITV (in the United Kingdom) and in January 2013 on PBS.

- DOWNTON ABBEY Season 3 Trailer
- DOWNTON ABBEY Season 3 Spoilers
- WATCH: Shirley MacLaine On DOWNTON ABBEY Sneak Peek


  1. PBS really needs to close the gap between the ITV airings and theirs. By the time January arrives, so many online spoilers and bootleg downloads will lessen the impact of it's US arrival.

  2. I was thinking the same thing, Doug.

    I'm just glad I'm on the US East Coast. Aside from all of DOWNTON, the only other time there was a gap and I really felt it was for most recent TORCHWOOD.