Our "Downton Abbey" family ritual: Thanks for the memories, PBS(Read article summary)
Now in season 3, "Downton Abbey" has become our Sunday evening family ritual, like "Murder She Wrote" before it, or "Bonanza" before that. It makes the electronic hearth safe again -- and it satisfies a kid as much as "Glee."
â€śOh YEAH-uh!â€ť said my 15-year-old daughter in a near milk-spew, as excited as if it were a new KPatz Twilight movie. Sheâ€™s no PBS nerd, but sheâ€™s as addicted to the Edwardian soap as her mom and dad.
Why do we love it?
As much as Iâ€™ve enforced the â€śno TVâ€ť rule throughout Ellenâ€™s childhood, I have to admit: I love the feeling of the Sunday-night ritual of getting Mom, Dad, Kid and Dog together on the couch, staring into the flat screen and sharing the tangle of angsts, glories, irritations, and loves of Downton for 60 minutes â€“ as well as our own irritations when that 60 minutes is up. Itâ€™s like having our own cozy little tea time â€“ only weâ€™re dressed in pajamas and Queenie tends to bark when we get too unruly about the latest injustice to passive-aggressive Bates.
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 Smithâ€™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, Iâ€™m able to suspend disbelief (Iâ€™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 televisionâ€™s WGBH membership drive just to get that â€śFree Batesâ€ť T-shirt they were offering.
My husband considers the show justÂ â€śa cracking-good old-fashioned soap opera of a storyâ€ť that substitutes rich characters for the modern TV failsafe of video game action or cheap humor.Â And, like me, he likes his TV ritual and he likes it on Sunday nights â€“ and rarely any other time â€“Â as a cozy family thing going back to â€śBonanzaâ€ť and â€śDisneyâ€™s Wonderful World of Colorâ€ť and â€śMatlockâ€ť and â€śMurder She Wrote.â€ť
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 â€“ such as the gay kiss in the first season between scheming Thomas the footman and a visiting duke â€“ we both feel a lot happier sitting down with our daughter to watch an hour of parlor lit than â€śGleeâ€ť or â€śGossip Girl.â€ť
Ellenâ€™s favorite character is Sybil â€śthe rebellious sister who ran away for love,â€ť she says. â€śBecause sheâ€™s independent and unselfish.â€ťÂ But as romantic as her feelings are about that character, Ellenâ€™s pretty unsentimental about the ritual her dad and I love. She says sheâ€™d be into Downton whether we watched it together or not. Iâ€™m just not sure, though, that sheâ€™d ever have been exposed to it without us â€“ PBS isnâ€™t her first stop when given free rein with the remote, and she claims thereâ€™s no discussion of the show among friends because she thinks no one her age has ever heard of it.Â
I called Martha Matlaw, a former middle school English teacher of Ellenâ€™s whose love of good stories really inspires kids, to find out if her students are chattering about the third season opener this weekend, and she confirmed Ellenâ€™s unscientific sense of it: The kids donâ€™t seem to be talking about it. But, she discovered one student who watches with her family. So Ellenâ€™s got company in 7th grader Gia Bond, whose favorite Downton denizen is also Sybil because â€śsheâ€™s so different from the other characters ... and [because] she wants to be a doctor.â€ť
Giaâ€™s mom, Erica, says the family watched the first season in â€ś3-episode marathonsâ€ť on Netflix because of all the buzz about it on Facebook, just like we did. And now theyâ€™re all waiting excitedly, just like us, for the 3rd season. Well, all except Giaâ€™s little 8-year-old brother who doesnâ€™t like it and goes to bed before they watch the show.
The Bonds sit together on the couch, just like us, and, says Gia, â€śif something upsets us we usually yell at the TV like itâ€™s a baseball game.â€ť
Even though Ellen and Gia think theyâ€™re outliers, I think there are a whole lot of families like us whoâ€™ll be on the couch Sunday, together, rooting for the good guys â€“ â€śFree Bates!â€ť â€“ jeering at the bad guys,Â admiring the clothes and creating family memories around the electronic hearth for another generation. Itâ€™s all good.