Binge Guide

Weekly Binge: Downton Abbey

We give you what you need to know to dive into the popular shows everyone's talking about.

by | December 23, 2014 | Comments

Welcome to the Weekly Binge, where we take a closer look at the shows that are worth your time. This week, we take a trip back in time to the waning days of the British aristocracy. Here’s what you’ll need to know before you spend some time at Downton Abbey.


Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey

What’s the premise? The residents and domestic staff of a grand English country estate deal with household intrigue and societal upheaval in the first decades of the 20th Century.

What’s it like? As with such beloved Brit imports as Pride and Prejudice and Upstairs, Downstairs, Downton Abbey is a period drama that both celebrates and critiques a bygone era, allowing viewers to revel in opulence while looking askance at the rigid societal norms of an earlier time. That said, the secret to Downton Abbey‘s success is that beneath its pristine facade, it’s as twisty and melodramatic as a soap opera, albeit one that maintains a veneer of class on the strength of its cast of Oscar nominees and BBC regulars.

Where can I see it? Season five premieres Sunday, January 4, on PBS at 9:00 pm. Season one through four are available for streaming on Amazon and iTunes; selected episodes can be streamed on

How long will it take? One of the many things to love about British TV is the brevity of its series. The first season of Downton is seven hour-long episodes, and the next three are eight each, so if you’re really dedicated, you can probably polish the whole thing off over the course of a week and a half.

What do the critics think? The first two seasons of Downton Abbey were met with rapturous, near universal acclaim. “Compulsively watchable from the get-go, Downton Abbey fulfills the Masterpiece designation more faithfully than just about anything else to grace the PBS showcase in years,” raved Brian Lowry of Variety. All of the first three seasons are Certified Fresh, but some of that critical luster had worn off by season four, which came in at a relatively shakey 69 percent on the Tomatometer. “Despite the occasional creakiness and lapses into melodrama Downton Abbey remains a show to watch, notable for its dreamy production values and the real depth of feeling it portrays between the classes,” wrote Diane Garrett of TheWrap.

Why should I watch this? With its lavish setting and British accents, Downton Abbey might look like your typical PBS prestige show at first glance. But Downton Abbey gives equal dramatic weight to the household staff and the Crawley family. Indeed, what makes the show so compulsively watchable is its richly nuanced characters, each of whom are bound by societal conventions but occasionally finds a way to expand their limits. Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville), the head of the estate, may be a snooty rich guy, but he’s also thoroughly decent — loyal to old friends, concerned about his employees’ welfare, and willing to be flexible in the face of societal change. At first, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) seems like a stuffy old bird, but you come to admire her sharp wit and extreme pragmatism. The show never fully celebrates or condemns its wealthy characters, nor does it heap nobility upon the servants; Downton Abbey places them into a context in which they all play the roles they’re assigned, but are also able to adjust to the upheavals of World War I and the Jazz Age. Let me put it this way: Downton Abbey is probably the only show on television that could make the loss of a tuxedo shirt a serious plot point — and make you care.

What’s my next step? A staple on lists of the greatest movies ever made, Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game is a dark satire set in an opulent country estate, where aristocrats and servants intermingle with occasionally explosive results. Downton Abbey series creator Julian Fellows wrote the script for Gosford Park, which borrowed heavily from Renoir’s masterpiece (initially, Downton was conceived as a spinoff to Gosford Park). If you’re in the mood for another period drama about class divisions in England, the critically acclaimed Call the Midwife should do the trick nicely. And if you want to want to feel like an occupant of the Grantham’s estate, head over to to purchase official Downton Abbey jewlery.

What do you like about Downton Abbey? How would you explain it to a newbie? Get in on the conversation here.

Tag Cloud

Food Network screenings VICE royal family spain Endgame Comic-Con@Home 2021 Showtime Tubi ABC Signature interviews Lifetime singing competition VH1 sequel DC Comics boxing spy thriller facebook Mary poppins Amazon Prime Mary Poppins Returns Nat Geo aapi cats TruTV revenge christmas movies The Academy Superheroes french TCA Awards emmy awards 4/20 USA book blaxploitation action-comedy Super Bowl tv talk Marvel Studios black indiana jones Fargo cars supernatural NBA a nightmare on elm street Hallmark Christmas movies CNN Set visit El Rey technology hist talk show mutant Universal Shondaland BET Awards Election Masterpiece Tags: Comedy Watching Series Song of Ice and Fire Star Wars Celebration VOD italian travel summer TV Captain marvel Comedy Central DC Universe dexter casting Podcast cooking crime thriller Film Festival olympics vampires The CW witnail crossover Vudu halloween docudrama Best Director sitcom Paramount Premiere Dates Baby Yoda chucky Star Wars Paramount Pictures natural history Cannes 2018 cancelled TV shows finale Teen Music crime The Arrangement streaming movies worst zombies Sundance TV First Reviews CMT sports NBC HFPA DirecTV mission: impossible Drama universal monsters best worst movies GLAAD Red Carpet saw period drama Mindy Kaling Disney Plus Comedy Netflix Christmas movies telelvision Trivia international San Diego Comic-Con series Year in Review stop motion RT History spanish The Purge know your critic Toys Sony Pictures scary movies Ellie Kemper HBO Warner Bros. independent ESPN festival blockbuster Mystery South by Southwest Film Festival green book Marvel japan monster movies video Country high school Pixar space TIFF canceled TV shows cults Epix 93rd Oscars Best Actor dramedy Travel Channel Black History Month composers nfl game of thrones AMC Plus TCA 2017 Image Comics APB comic books Reality werewolf unscripted Anna Paquin Animation Photos genre documentary stand-up comedy rt labs critics edition psychological thriller based on movie TNT wonder woman Fall TV cancelled IFC toy story Focus Features comic TV movies police drama Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Winter TV gangster Women's History Month award winner art house Video Games Syfy Classic Film politics asian-american 24 frames dreamworks Interview The Walking Dead Crackle kong deadpool women dogs X-Men dceu Infographic HBO Max Exclusive Video breaking bad A&E Christmas Creative Arts Emmys Thanksgiving Binge Guide blockbusters popular Grammys cancelled television rt archives Trophy Talk comics scorecard Musical obi wan new zealand Peacock 2017 Lucasfilm Pride Month venice Superheroe romance Apple 45 concert Trailer indie Winners docuseries heist movie romantic comedy ID Chernobyl Rock FX Countdown Martial Arts summer TV preview critic resources Black Mirror war Best and Worst NYCC scary scene in color series elevated horror golden globe awards Horror anime cancelled TV series fresh MSNBC Amazon Prime Video mob godzilla anthology japanese adventure Columbia Pictures Certified Fresh Writers Guild of America Stephen King serial killer die hard Native rotten BBC America Schedule BET name the review marvel cinematic universe adenture Awards child's play 2020 Disney Channel Oscars superman ABC Family screen actors guild Box Office YA foreign psycho Arrowverse The Witch OneApp Pacific Islander TCA Disney+ Disney Plus LGBTQ debate superhero Tokyo Olympics E! streamig Awards Tour live action 73rd Emmy Awards Starz halloween tv Extras Turner criterion boxoffice remakes reboot Marathons PaleyFest Western Universal Pictures 99% legend 79th Golden Globes Awards doctor who 20th Century Fox MGM zero dark thirty Alien king kong SXSW Fox News Marvel Television south america Pop Best Actress Paramount Network archives trophy science fiction Ovation joker Summer target scene in color Heroines king arthur Oscar suspense Spring TV rom-coms Indigenous spinoff golden globes Adult Swim all-time Legendary Rocketman spider-verse SundanceTV See It Skip It Sony jamie lee curtis Hear Us Out Fantasy BBC harry potter ABC cinemax obituary quibi slasher scene in color film series comic book movie Lifetime Christmas movies strong female leads fast and furious CBS hidden camera social media SDCC children's TV TBS Best Picture lord of the rings batman toronto rotten movies we love hispanic critics TV renewals new star wars movies teaser President Valentine's Day Pirates 2016 Opinion television cops Cartoon Network Mary Tyler Moore Ghostbusters feel good biopic Apple TV Plus films Polls and Games Sneak Peek latino parents Tomatazos Hallmark 2021 basketball TV One hispanic heritage month animated Netflix crime drama 90s New York Comic Con comic book movies streaming Star Trek summer preview dragons 21st Century Fox Musicals ghosts Paramount Plus dc DGA Shudder razzies Hulu 2019 kids Turner Classic Movies free movies Comic Book TCM Cosplay Sundance Now Kids & Family TCA Winter 2020 vs. slashers Discovery Channel robots Disney Amazon Studios CW Seed movie james bond Britbox MCU FXX Disney streaming service ratings Emmy Nominations Action Character Guide Spike mockumentary GIFs A24 Bravo canceled justice league adaptation FX on Hulu Tumblr political drama new york BBC One nbcuniversal sopranos CBS All Access YouTube Red Instagram Live sequels GoT Lionsgate 007 Biopics Holidays USA Network prank true crime Esquire disaster Emmys Amazon thriller FOX First Look theme song Quiz Dark Horse Comics documentaries broadcast The Walt Disney Company sag awards Film YouTube Premium Nickelodeon reviews Fox Searchlight medical drama Academy Awards versus DC streaming service PlayStation twilight Mudbound MTV hollywood laika 72 Emmy Awards 71st Emmy Awards video on demand Sci-Fi comiccon AMC Pop TV Crunchyroll Prime Video Holiday SXSW 2022 richard e. Grant Rom-Com kaiju marvel comics Television Academy football mcc franchise RT21 PBS Tarantino TLC Pet Sematary LGBT IFC Films ViacomCBS comedies OWN WarnerMedia Logo Wes Anderson Sundance Nominations young adult Elton John dark History Acorn TV Broadway ITV cartoon classics jurassic park Apple TV+ Walt Disney Pictures live event BAFTA Television Critics Association pirates of the caribbean National Geographic zombie WGN australia scene in color black comedy Spectrum Originals TV Land HBO Go Comics on TV movies YouTube diversity Geeked Week nature book adaptation Brie Larson target news posters festivals discovery American Society of Cinematographers spanish language transformers Hollywood Foreign Press Association what to watch Funimation directors 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Rocky satire 94th Oscars miniseries stoner binge E3 leaderboard spider-man Reality Competition rt labs 2015 Freeform 1990s renewed TV shows historical drama trailers Avengers Calendar aliens Family game show Neflix biography TV IMDb TV