Why Americans Fell in Love With Downton Abbey

Why Americans Fell in Love With Downton Abbey

"Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes has been asked many times why his hugely popular TV show went over so well with Americans. And his answer has always been, he honestly doesn't know. One could ask a similar question concerning the other massive hit from across the pond; "Sherlock," starring the international phenomenon that has become Benedict Cumberbatch.

Well, I have a theory as to why such shows gained a large following in the U.S.

There are a number of reasons, in fact, but let's start with what I consider to be the most obvious: Our television shows can be - and often are - embarrassingly bad. Stupid, poorly written, badly acted, downright ugly and adolescent, etc. I'm reaching the point where I'm about ready to ditch cable because I feel brain cells dying as I cycle through the trash commonly found on our hundreds of channels. There are a few highlights over the years (I've liked "Leverage," "The Blacklist," "Forever" and "Manhattan Love Story," for instance; and was pissed the latter two were cancelled). But frankly, we don't have anything that can really reach the level of overall quality on display in "Downton Abbey" and "Sherlock."

I figure everybody knows this, but we should also realize there's a group - that hopefully grows larger and more vocal as time goes on - of Americans who simply can't tolerate the likes of "Honey Boo-Boo" and "Party Down South." We're starved for quality and we admit it. And when we see it, we latch on like a once proud and secure Titanic traveler snatching at a life preserver.

Beyond that, however, there's a more interesting societal twist: "Downton Abbey" portrays a system this country has always disliked and in fact, has come to loathe. Most Americans now would spit on white, privileged, aristocrats, and wouldn't care at all about their elitist first-world problems and outdated principles. Now, while it's true that "Downton Abbey" shows the flaws in such an obviously flawed system, and presents us with a time period in which the system is forced to change or die (and as a result, the characters must change as well), it also shows us that there is some value in that way of life.

Not in regards to oppression or class-warriors or anything like that; rather, in the little things that once made civilized life civilized. Maybe one of the reasons so many of us in this country kept watching the show is because we're sick of seeing hordes of unkempt, unwashed, ill-mannered boors shuffling through Wal-Mart in their pajamas. Maybe we've gone too far in the "right" direction; perhaps we all acknowledge that obsessing over the proper way to fold a handkerchief and display it in the lapel of one's dinner jacket is a tad ridiculous, but there's a big gap between that and...well, what we see today.

Civility, propriety, charm, etiquette, charisma, respect; these are words that we only vaguely understand today, and frankly, it's because we've honestly come to believe they're unnecessary. We've reached the point where, like a bunch of children on a playground, we mock people for using proper grammar or dressing well. We're not merely saying such civilities aren't necessary; we're actually trying to say they're bad.

They never were bad. All we're really saying today is not that we've advanced beyond the folding of the handkerchief, but that we're just too lazy to bother with the idea. Laziness is at the core of all of this, not progressive thinking. And that's the long and short of it, and another very good reason why I believe lots of people enjoy simply looking at "Downton Abbey." A time and place where those words above actually had meaning and value and you know, it's actually quite pleasant. People seem like adults when they act correctly, don't they?

One last thinig to consider: Those who like to call this show an "upscale soap opera" or something along those lines is missing one critical point: Soap operas are inane basically by definition. And that's exactly the opposite of what "Downtown Abbey" was and is.


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What Girls Said 7

  • I've actually never seen this show but I've only heard good things about it. The youtube videos you posted here definitely makes me want to watch it! I love history and watching shows/movies that are set in a different time period. :)

    I have also gotten very tired of most American shows. I don't like "reality" shows which seems to be so extremely common these days. I do watch some crime shows such as NCIS and Law & Order: SVU but other than that, I really don't watch much television in general. One exception though would be 'The Walking Dead' as I love that show. Lol I really get into the plot, characters, and it's interesting to think about what would happen if the world was really forced into an apocalypse situation.

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  • i friend recommended me to watch but i kept forgetting

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  • Still haven't seen that show ):

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  • I like downtown I watched the hole series I just wish didn't end I wish they could have made a session 7 and more sessions

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  • Don't ever want to watch it but my, what a well written take. So rare to find thoughts expressed so well on this website.

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  • Because at the heart of every American is an imperialist that craves Empire.

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  • Very well said!

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What Guys Said 5

  • There are some damn fine tv shows,
    Burn notice
    Justified

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    • And yet, it's absurd to compare Burn Notice to Downton Abbey. They're simply in different universes, quality-wise.

      We do have some good shows (I list several in the article). I just have difficulty finding great ones.

    • Show All
    • A real writer would never say "Downton Abbey" sucks even if he doesn't like the show.
      So I take it that the Pulitzer Prize winner Roger Ebert wasn't a real writer.
      "Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."-Roger Ebert

    • real writer would be able to spot all the problems with the following:

      "I know I'm a writer. I couldn't careless about the lives of useless aristrocrats."

      But thank you for so perfectly illustrating the decreasing literary ability of Americans, and also the erroneous belief that we're still better than everyone else.

      You do realize that when writing on the first time its expect that you make mistakes, thats why revision is so important
      Hell go through a first printing of a book and you will find errors that weren't caught by the editor.
      Second, as for the declining literacy rates, I often read two sometimes three books a day

  • I have seen all episodes of the show and loved it. Before reading your myTake, I probably could not have articulated my fascination with the series but I now realize that I like Downton Abbey, and the era it represents, for precisely the reasons which you set forth here. Very well done!

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  • Yeah, American TV shows has a critical weakness: villains are shallow evil doers and heroes are one dimentional, idiotic do-gooders.

    Blacklist, Leverage and maybe White Collar and Dexter (at least in the early seasons) are some of the few shows with a more complex black vs white deal.

    Though things are changing a bit. The producers are getting hammered by 'dumbing down' shows so people can understand. More complex and sophisticated shows are getting a little head way into the public like House of Cards.

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  • A well written Take! :)

    Never seen a whole episode of the show myself, but it does look good.

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  • While I admire the effort of your post, the simple fact is, Americans love to see Brits ;)

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    • We do? Nobody I know falls into that category, aside from the fascination with the royal family, which we only love because of the combined pageantry and scandal. ;)

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