12 Days of Downton Plus One: Five Reasons You Should Give Downton Abbey a Try

The wonderful Downton Abbey returns tonight at 9pm on Masterpiece Classic. To say that a lot of us are over the moon excited about this is a bit of an understatement.

The first series aired last winter, won four Emmys, and has become a pop culture obsession on both sides of the pond. If you’ve yet to experience the brilliance that is this wonderful period drama, WETA is marathoning the entire first series this afternoon, starting in just about half an hour, all leading up to the Series 2 premiere at 9pm.

If you’ve somehow managed to miss out on the excellence that is this show, you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. Well, right now is a perfect time to catch up and jump right in, and it’s highly likely you’ll end up just as swept away as the rest of us? Why? Click through and see for yourself.

There’s so much that’s brilliant about Downton Abbey that it’s difficult to narrow it down to just a handful of truly standout elements. But there are some things that set this series apart from virtually anything else on television. It’s a period drama without the things that make so many people nervous about the genre – it’s not stuffy or slow and it is certainly anything but boring.

What makes it so awesome? Well there’s…

The romance. It’s a British period drama, so you know it has to be full of longing looks, thwarted anticipation and painful revelations – and Downton Abbey has several, between aristocrats, servants or some combination of both. You’ll find a pairing (or three) to swoon over here, easily – but don’t be surprised if you end up having to wait (and wait and wait) for them to sort out their various emotional issues. But, of course, that’s part of the fun.

The Dowager Countess. As the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Dame Maggie Smith puts on her best posh, imperious demeanor and steals virtually every scene she’s in with her deadpan delivery and biting commentary. Smith’s an Emmy-winner in this role for a reason, and she’s a delight to watch. Best of all, the role isn’t a caricature, as the Dowager gets to demonstrate her smarts, heart, and family loyalty on multiple occasions. And, she’s fabulous, of course.

The social issues. Downton provides an interesting look at changing social dynamics in the early 20th century. The show works in that it gives us a look not only at the landed gentry who reside in the titular house, but the lives of the household staff that keeps everything running. The different upstairs and downstairs worlds are woven together seamlessly, but not in a way that prevents us from seeing the cracks in the very system that the Crawley’s lives uphold and how even certain members of their own family struggle with it (Matthew, for example). Lady Sybil’s foray into politics adds another interesting layer here as well – she attends rallies working to get women the vote, wears pants to dinner, and helps a housemaid move into the middle class – as it illustrates that not only are many of the long-accepted social structures of the time period are beginning to change, but that some of the most privileged are supporting those changes. And that’s not even touching on the central issue of Downtonthe entail and Mary’s inability to inherit her father’s estate due to her gender.  

The clothes. I currently have no reason to wear an Edwardian-style gown anywhere, nor am I ever likely to, but this show certainly does make me want to buy one, just in case. (Or not just one, but the entirety of Mary’s wardrobe, if I’m honest.) Downton has made the period look so popular that sales of elbow length gloves, fur capes and other aristocratic accessories increased by over 584% at Debenhams last fall.  

The drama. For everything else that’s been mentioned before – the best thing about Downton is really that it’s a compelling story. Yes, the cast is fantastic, the setting is beautiful, the clothes are lovely, and the dialogue is sparkling – but Downton will really keep you coming back because you care about what happens to the characters and because you’re dying to know what happens next. Can Mary and Matthew work things out? Will the Ladies Grantham convince Robert to fight the entail? Who will be sent off to war? Will everyone survive? What other secrets does Mr. Bates have? Will he finally admit he loves Anna? Will Mrs. Padmore ever be nice to Daisy? Will someone notice how awful O’Brien is? So many questions, all waiting to be answered.

Suppose we’ll have to tune-in and find out!