I’ll be honest. I was very close to abandoning this week’s topic of “Downton Abbey” in favor of writing about the news that broke a few days ago regarding J.J. Abrams directing the next "Star Wars" film. But, after sitting down from doing cartwheels and taking a deep breath, I decided to stay on course and wait until next week. So …
Season 3 of “Downton Abbey” is well underway in America, and it arrived with a wallop. According to the Los Angeles Times, the season premiere drew 7.9 million viewers, nearly doubling its second season premiere and quadrupling the average viewings of other PBS prime-time shows.
So, what’s the appeal?
Why do we care about the Crawleys, the fictional family of aristocrats living on their Yorkshire country estate, anyway? Why do thousands of younger and older Americans alike throw "Downton"-watching parties every Sunday night? And why does it rule social media like the British monarchy, with conversations on Twitter and Facebook concerning everything from Maggie Smith’s quotable line of the week to the simply darling dress Lady Mary wore at dinner?
Sure, it’s got scandal and love interests and, yes, even a bit of action. It’s filled with characters you love to hate and characters you hate to love. It’s a costume period piece that allows us to see what life was like in early 20th-century England. But, really, don’t we have better things to obsess about than watching very rich people worry about what to wear for dinner or the amount of seasoning in their soup?
Why, yes, on any other day of the week, we do. But, for an hour on Sunday night, we choose not to. And it’s because of the Crawley family’s servants.
Like a backstage pass, the servants of the household, we discover, are the ones who hold the Crawley household together. And not just by doing the chores, either. They are intertwined in the emotional affairs of the family. They are the keepers of the family secrets. But the servants have their own secrets, their own scandals.
But as much as “Downton” is a form of escape, it resonates with Americans because we can relate, on some level, to the Crawleys, but even more so to their servants. Think last year’s Occupy movement; as much resentment as some of the servants may hold to their employers, the same resentment was felt by many Americans toward the wealthy in America. And vice versa.
But at the same time, we’re also obsessed with how the other half lives, that is, the super-wealthy. And that, among other things, is why the Crawleys have captured America the way they have.
So, what do you think about “Downton Abbey"? Do you watch it? If so, why? If not, tell me about it. Sound off below.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.