I’ve heard about it for years, of course. My sister even showed me an episode a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t hooked. But recently, at the insistence of my sister-in-law, I decided to give it a chance and I took the plunge into season 1.
I am on season 3 now and although there are things I appreciate about the show, I have been a number of complaints.
- One of my excuses to my sister-in-law (from the 1.5 episodes I had seen) was that there were too many characters. She scoffed at me, and for good reason. Ten minutes into episode one I understood clearly who everyone was. I still think there is an issue with the characters, but that it is quality and not quantity. My general impression so far is that (with a few exceptions) most of the characters exist as pieces of the writer’s dramatic puzzle. Therefore they are motivated not out of their own character, but in order to fulfill certain pieces of drama. The difference can be very subtle, but for me it is extremely irksome. Even in season 1 I began rolling my eyes at the characters’ choices.
- And I want to add that (again with a few exceptions) the show gives little insight into any of these many characters. In spite of all the layers of complicated dialogue, plot twists, intrigue, and romance, many of the characters maintain very flimsy shadows. The main exceptions I can think of are O’Brien (I kind of love her) and Edith (with the jury still out on Cora, Thomas, and Mrs. Patmore). Not only have they been the most consistent, but they both have fascinating layers to their characters.
- I suppose I was warned by the description of the show that it is a bit like a classy soap opera, so maybe I shouldn’t complain. But I see the potential the show could have had if it had steered away from the “soap opera” aspects. There are plenty of trials and tribulations in real life. I can’t help but compare it to Dickens’ “Bleak House,” which contains plenty of suspense, drama, and intrigue and a host of characters, but pulls it off with sophistication and rich characters.
- Missing Pieces
- My final complaint has to do with odd storytelling. At times there are important scenes that seem to take place “offstage” and I can’t understand why they didn’t include them. One example is when Lady Sibyl is first shown at a political rally. They make an abrupt reference like, “I wish she wouldn’t go to these things” which is supposed to inform the audience that she has been interested in politics for some time. But it comes across as a little jolting. With all the hours of screen time up to this point it seems like there could have been a smoother introduction. And this occurs multiple times with the development of storylines and/or relationships. Some are done well, but many are a bit bumpy. In the development of one major couple’s relationship I found myself unconvinced. I still have no idea why she suddenly started liking him.
Although I want to like the show, those three factors can make it difficult. The costumes are beautiful, the details about the time period and how the house is run are fascinating, and I even appreciate the social and political perspectives of the time (especially dealing with servants, the aristocracy, and issues that come up at the hospital). I may continue to watch. But for now this show remains mediocre for me when it could have been great.