(The ten best dramas of 2012 will be revealed on Hulu’s homepage each weekday of this week. To view the rest of the list, click here.)
3 – Downton Abbey
I can’t remember when it was, but at some point last year, it became clear that I was going to have to watch Downton Abbey. There were simply too many people in my face talking about it. How could a British costume drama that takes place in the teens be so exciting? I had to find out. I watched Episode 1 with my wife and her parents, but after a while, I found it hard to hear the dialogue over the sound of three people snoring. It was like a room full of chainsaws.
After my first failed attempt, I tried to get my wife to watch Downton Abbey with me. She resisted. All that snoring had traumatized her. It was like being sniffed all over by a pack of invisible wild boars. It was then that I realized – Downton Abbey has some plot points that are tricky for an American viewer to pick up on. Once you’ve got those covered, you’re in – so I’m going to throw the basics at you:
Robert Crowley, the Earl of Grantham, lives in this freaking huge house called Downton Abbey. The place is so massive that it requires a great deal of money to maintain, with the help of an enormous staff – cooks, maids, valets. Robert ran out of money, so he married a rich American woman, Cora. Now here’s the tricky part: Robert and Cora signed this agreement called an entail. The entail says that Downton Abbey, and all of Cora’s fortune, can only be passed to a male heir. And Robert only has daughters. Basically this means that the house, and all the money, goes to Robert’s cousin, and the daughters get nothing. So the oldest daughter, Mary, actually gets engaged to the cousin, so she can stay filthy rich – but then, oh snap, the cousin dies on the Titanic. So who inherits Downton Abbey, and all that money? The new heir turns out to be a distant, distant cousin – a working-class guy who hates all this posh stuff. Butlers and whatnot. And Mary hates him, immediately. And just like every single movie you’ve ever seen with Matthew McConaughey in it, you know they’re going to hate each other right until they start making out.
If you watch Downton Abbey and you don’t know what an entail is, you’ll spend half of the pilot trying to figure out what’s going on, and then your wife’s stepdad starts snoring with enough force to make ripples in your water glass, and shake books off the shelves. By the way, guess who’s getting a CPAP for Christmas?
Once I got my wife up to speed on the whole entail business, and after (seriously) every couple we went out with wouldn’t shut up about Downton Abbey, my wife agreed to watch, and within two days she was totally hooked.
What’s the big deal with Downton Abbey? Oh, so much.
The beautiful photography, set decoration and scenery serve as a sumptuous backdrop for a story full of scandalous secrets and evil schemes.
Downton Abbey is two houses in one building – a house full of of rich-ass loafers: fox-hunting, tea-sipping, port-drinking, dinner-jacketed nobility, and a house full of super-poor waitstaff, scuttling all over the place, lighting fireplaces, making beds, preparing and serving lavish meals, actually putting the clothes on the rich people. The poor people work their asses off and the rich people literally do nothing. Like, nothing, ever. The incomparable Maggie Smith, unbelievably lifelike as the ancient Countess of Grantham, cracks her best line when working-class Matthew mentions his weekend plans, and the Countess says “What is a weekend?” Then you realize – every day is Saturday to this lady.
And you just get into all their dirt – who they sleep with, flirt with, steal from, their shady past dealings… the show is juicy.
Watching Mary and Matthew hate each other is awesome. She’s the ultimate snob. Mary treats Matthew like trash, and the whole time you’re watching her become more and more attracted to him.
There’s two seasons of Downton Abbey on Hulu right now, so if you haven’t already… get started. Feel cultured for watching a snotty British costume drama. Feel trashy for watching a soap opera. Feel anxious for Season 3, which ends next week in the UK, and is set to hit the US this January. But most of all, feel proud that you totally know what everyone’s talking about. You’re in.—Nathan Alexander