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.

  • Lucy Adams

    The only good thing about having a horrible cold is that I have an excuse to lay around and binge on Downton Abbey. LOVE this show. Can’t wait for Season 6.

Tag Cloud

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Sony Pictures supernatural green book Box Office christmas movies movie Tarantino ITV cartoon mutant GLAAD CW Seed series PlayStation The Witch game show foreign stoner finale DC Comics DGA satire anthology harry potter discovery Avengers TIFF SDCC YouTube DirecTV NYCC E! Amazon Prime USA Network FXX Toys Rom-Com stop motion Cartoon Network Awards war Sundance Amazon Prime Video Ghostbusters Creative Arts Emmys Teen movies 24 frames Pop Biopics Captain marvel revenge YA award winner Heroines TNT Musical ESPN Marvel documentary a nightmare on elm street FX on Hulu vampires Trailer stand-up comedy romantic comedy medical drama Anna Paquin mission: impossible teaser Mary Tyler Moore Turner Classic Movies Food Network Amazon BET 45 cancelled TV shows laika Black Mirror dceu HBO Max CBS All Access APB Set visit Emmys Tumblr Premiere Dates Masterpiece psycho Disney streaming service asian-american Pride Month Fall TV dragons emmy awards classics Sci-Fi Binge Guide Endgame adaptation Netflix Christmas movies Best and Worst spider-man dark Shudder PaleyFest First Reviews YouTube Premium Song of Ice and Fire comic science fiction Britbox CNN independent indie Academy Awards nature 20th Century Fox 2015 Freeform E3 2017 Certified Fresh HBO spinoff Warner Bros. First Look Ovation Marvel Studios VOD Pirates Netflix VH1 BBC One book jamie lee curtis PBS Lionsgate San Diego Comic-Con films binge aliens Fox News The CW OWN Mary poppins free movies HBO Go screen actors guild tv talk Chilling Adventures of Sabrina reviews YouTube Red 21st Century Fox theme song Ellie Kemper blaxploitation Sneak Peek Cosplay Epix versus SundanceTV American Society of Cinematographers cops Photos 2019 Mudbound dogs hollywood Super Bowl A&E cooking cinemax streaming See It Skip It reboot WGN video TV Land crime thriller Quiz latino cars blockbuster robots Lifetime sequel talk show TCM Calendar golden globes crime Mindy Kaling Superheroe MCU Hallmark Christmas movies Reality Competition kids festivals Disney Plus Rocky zombies DC Universe AMC Musicals comiccon cats die hard canceled Syfy Apple TV Plus romance Sundance Now Shondaland concert OneApp spy thriller Oscars politics Women's History Month Universal news disaster Elton John franchise Marathons Paramount boxoffice strong female leads Comedy Acorn TV hist technology The Purge cults unscripted Lucasfilm doctor who rotten anime worst Stephen King Showtime Western Trivia Vudu nbcuniversal Awards Tour X-Men Apple NBC Horror Bravo Character Guide Arrowverse Kids & Family crossover 71st Emmy Awards animated witnail RT21 TBS rotten movies we love Superheroes video on demand 2016 social media ratings travel Holidays criterion Fantasy BAFTA New York Comic Con Disney+ Disney Plus TCA 2017 Grammys zero dark thirty Animation Amazon Studios diversity Trophy Talk Comics on TV south america biography Infographic Election cancelled 2018 Drama Pet Sematary Television Academy quibi screenings TV renewals Opinion Adult Swim Brie Larson Year in Review toy story Emmy Nominations The Arrangement children's TV singing competition TV Winners twilight Martial Arts all-time Funimation Red Carpet Starz crime drama Polls and Games superhero Nominations History Podcast ghosts VICE Valentine's Day FOX FX fast and furious 4/20 Countdown Classic Film Columbia Pictures obituary Music LGBT zombie dramedy period drama space Christmas Family A24 Crackle Star Trek MSNBC Holiday elevated horror USA Star Wars historical drama GIFs halloween Sundance TV 72 Emmy Awards TruTV Tubi Peacock police drama true crime MTV Paramount Network Action Travel Channel joker GoT IFC LGBTQ what to watch scary movies Hulu Winter TV Summer television BBC werewolf spanish language Dark Horse Comics CBS composers Rock batman Extras canceled TV shows Nat Geo sitcom chucky Black History Month facebook Apple TV+ Rocketman Lifetime Christmas movies Mary Poppins Returns psychological thriller universal monsters Spectrum Originals natural history comedies El Rey Walt Disney Pictures based on movie Comic Book sequels parents Film Festival CMT Country game of thrones indiana jones best DC streaming service documentaries Esquire child's play Writers Guild of America Crunchyroll Hallmark cancelled TV series mockumentary The Walking Dead adventure Pop TV directors RT History Tomatazos BBC America Hear Us Out critics Schedule casting Nickelodeon Disney serial killer Interview National Geographic Spike miniseries Reality TLC Spring TV IFC Films Cannes Thanksgiving Film SXSW TCA Video Games transformers Discovery Channel Television Critics Association 007 TCA Awards President WarnerMedia Marvel Television richard e. Grant docudrama hispanic Mystery Watching Series name the review Pixar sag awards Baby Yoda political drama dc BET Awards thriller ABC Family Logo Disney Channel slashers justice league Chernobyl ABC sports 2020 comics TCA Winter 2020 cancelled television Turner breaking bad Comedy Central spain renewed TV shows