I revel in every moment from that rear-view Lab shot in the opening credits to the brutal cliffhanger closings and all the in-between of the fine cutlery of Maggie Smith’s one-liners, the copper pots and pans that make even English fare look good, and the desire to just reach out and touch someone (an encouraging cheek squeeze in the case of goofy servant Daisy, a firm pinch for middle-Crawley-daughter Edith, and a bear hug for butler Mr. Carson). And, I’m able to suspend disbelief (I’m talking to you New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley!) of the show being unrealistic treacle because ... I just want to. I even succumbed to Boston public television’s WGBH membership drive just to get that “Free Bates” T-shirt they were offering.
My husband considers the show just “a cracking-good old-fashioned soap opera of a story” that substitutes rich characters for the modern TV failsafe of video game action or cheap humor. And, like me, he likes his TV ritual and he likes it on Sunday nights – and rarely any other time – as a cozy family thing going back to “Bonanza” and “Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” and “Matlock” and “Murder She Wrote.”
We think this ritual is sinking in to another generation with Ellen because of Downton. And even with the slightly adult themes some parents have objected to in web chatter – such as the gay kiss in the first season between scheming Thomas the footman and a visiting duke – we both feel a lot happier sitting down with our daughter to watch an hour of parlor lit than “Glee” or “Gossip Girl.”
Ellen’s favorite character is Sybil “the rebellious sister who ran away for love,” she says. “Because she’s independent and unselfish.” But as romantic as her feelings are about that character, Ellen’s pretty unsentimental about the ritual her dad and I love. She says she’d be into Downton whether we watched it together or not. I’m just not sure, though, that she’d ever have been exposed to it without us – PBS isn’t her first stop when given free rein with the remote, and she claims there’s no discussion of the show among friends because she thinks no one her age has ever heard of it.