Tuesday, January 21, 2014

downton (yawn) abbey — is the love affair over?

I wasn't one of the fans who was infuriated by the death of Matthew Crawley at the end of last season. Was it a surprise? Yes. An unpleasant one? Undoubtedly. But Downton Abbey has always been, first and foremost, a soap opera, and soap operas are known to pull such punches with their devoted audience. The actor Dan Stevens wanted to move on, and who can blame him? His character didn't really have anywhere that interesting to go, and maybe he wanted out of a show with such an obsessive fan base.

Downton Abbey survived without Matthew, and the fourth season is now in full swing, but ... is it any fun anymore? Maybe it's the fact that another Brit series, Sherlock, has also returned (and with just one episode aired, it's a hoot, off to a great start), but I find myself not all that enthused with what's happening at Downton. So much of the same old, same old is going on. Under Butler Thomas (Rob James-Collier) is scheming something. In the kitchen Daisy is still hopelessly pining after Alfred.

Lord Gillingham makes a bid for Lady Mary (and call me suspicious, but maybe Downton?)

Elzabeth McGovern and Hugh Bonneville as Lord and Lady Grantham are grossly underused. Maggie Smith as Dowager Violet is just trotted on for a quick quip and then trotted off again. And the Bateses are being out through the wringer once again, this time with poor Anna being raped by an the visiting Lord Gillingham’s (Tom Cullen) evil valet, Mr. Green. Not only do we have to watch a beloved character be used and abused, but then she is forced to act stupidly, by keeping it from her husband, and pushing him away. It will probably all be resolved by the end of the season, but I'm not sure whether I want to stick around for it and have to watch them suffer in the interim.

As for new developments, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) is having a flirtation with her married suitor, Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), which is destined to become an affair, and knowing Edith, lead to heartbreak. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) did have one terrific line about her sister, whose frequent trips to London were befuddling her father.

“Edith is about as mysterious as a bucket. She wants to see Michael Gregson.”

Young cousin Rose (Lily James) is a singularly annoying and uninteresting character, and a deliberate ploy by the producers to inject some youth and scandal into the proceedings  she is set up to fall for Jack Ross (Gary Carr), an African American jazz musician. Just wait for Grannie Violet to be the least scandalized. And Lady Mary — seemingly the focus of this year's season, is wading out of her grief, but already the show and her family is trying to set her up with a bunch of suitors. By the third (U.S. aired, 4th in the U.K.) episode she was already receiving a proposal from Lord Gillingham, so soon after being widowed that it seemed not just unseemly, but downright unbelievable.

Phyllis Logan as Mrs. Hughes — always a delight — but don't cross her!

There was one bright note. Mrs. Hughes squashed a plot by maid Edna who was trying to trap Branson (Allen Leech) in a false pregnancy. Not only is Phyllis Logan awesome as Mrs. Hughes, but she helped kill another stupid plot line that could have dragged on and dragged down the season. Downton Abbey airs right before Sherlock, so for at least a few more weeks I will be watching. But I can't say that at the moment, it is with any enthusiasm.


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