March 24, 2013

Downton Abbey: An Emotional Rollercoaster

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Since I was not venturing to a beach or Disneyworld, when I got home for spring break I did the next best thing: I sat in bed and watched an entire TV show. It took me four days to watch the entire series of Downton Abbey — and I got too attached.

For those of you who have not heard about this increasingly popular British Series (no spoilers!), it is about an upper-class English family in the early twentieth century, beginning with the sinking of the Titanic and going through World War I. The series focuses on the family adjusting to the changing world, their estate Downton Abbey and the servants who work there. Lord and Lady Grantham have three daughters, all of whom live at Downton Abbey and have many interesting experiences and relationships. When the Titanic sinks, so does the heir to Downton’s fortune and leadership.

The family calls on a third cousin: Matthew, a lawyer who is not accustomed to such high standards of living, and would much prefer his “simple” life consisting of just a cook and a maid. When he discusses what he likes to do on weekends, snarky Dowager Countess (my favorite, Maggie Smith) asks, “What is a weekend?” Matthew and his mother come to live at Downton, where they become integrated into the family.

The stories of the servants downstairs are just as interesting, and are even interwoven into the upstairs stories. The head butler is very proper and set in his ways (“I’ve never been called a liberal in all my life!”), while one of the maids has a secret typewriter and hopes to become a secretary. There are romances, scandals and all types of personalities among the servants. They are not only a vital part of the maintenance of the estate, but of the series as well.

Downton Abbey is an absolute delight to watch. Everything we see — including the scenery, the house, the people, and the costumes — is stunningly beautiful. The visuals alone pull us into the time period and contribute to the pure joy of watching the series. We see the introduction of the telephone, the changing fashions and the fading of the class system.

Also, the characters and their relationships with each other are wonderfully developed. With so many characters, it must be hard to include so much about each of them, and the way Downton does it seems effortless. There is real emotion and connection among the characters, achieved by the great writing and the superb acting. The dialogue is another impressive aspect of the show — it is very believable for the time period, and at the same time, is relatable and fun.

My favorite thing about Downton Abbey, however, is its ability to tackle hard-hitting issues relevant in any given time period. We see the issues as they are dealt with in that decade, and are able to learn from them and relate them to today’s issues. The show explores women’s rights, homosexuality, prostitution, a changing class system, pregnancy, the effects of new technology and more. I have particularly loved watching the female characters asserting their independence in a world dominated by men.

When you watch an entire show in four days, you become very intensely attached to the lives of the characters. I tend to get too emotionally invested in television shows anyway, so watching the whole thing in such a short timespan was like sprinting a marathon instead of pacing myself — too much, too fast. Maybe it is because of how great the show is, or maybe I am just crazy, but I really felt every emotion the characters were feeling. I audibly rejoiced when characters succeeded, physically grieved when they died and dwelled on the feelings for days after. I am still devastated over one character’s death that first aired months ago, and reminders that it is fictional have no impact on my feelings about the situation. I formed a relationship with these characters — as many viewers have. Although it may be one-sided, I have seen their experiences and related them to my own, so I conceive that my connection with them is legitimate.

Sometimes I question if watching shows that send me on intense emotional rollercoasters is worth it. They give me amazing characters and then hurt them or take them away, breaking my heart. But in the end, I think becoming “too attached” is a good thing — it is a true reflection of real life. Both good and bad things happen, and as long as you don’t let the bad outweigh the good, it’s worth it in the end. I let Downton Abbey break my heart, but it was worth it for everything else I got out of the show.

My intense emotional attachment might just make me a crazy TV-watcher, but it also might reflect the true impact Downton Abbey has on its viewers. The show has nothing short of amazing characters, compelling stories, beautiful costumes and important issues. If you do not already watch Downton Abbey, I highly recommend you “borrow” your friend’s mom’s Netflix subscription and get started. You might just get too attached, too.

Original Author: Samantha Weisman