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 PBS.org.

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 PBS.org 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

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