SCHMIDT: Thoughts on the TV show ‘Downton Abbey’

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By Dr. Paul Schmidt

In recent months I have watched a few recorded episodes of the first three seasons of Downton Abbey, a British drama about a family trying to hold onto a castle and to their entitled place in British high society.

Doing this has been treating my withdrawal pains last winter from the tragic ending of Season Three. It has also gotten me ready for the first installment of Season Four. To whet their appetites, fellow Downton fans may enjoy some of my thoughts about our favorite dramatic series.

Apparently the British feel free to go against some of the most sacred traditions of American television. Here are four unwritten rules of U.S. TV that Downton has refreshingly defied:

  • Measured moderation of feeling, slowly and carefully expressed, is shown sparingly on American TV. We seem to find emotions more appealing when they are kept under wraps in suppressed secrecy, and then expressed over the top in sudden excess.
  • Our TV shows never kill off the most beautiful and likable actor in a show's first or second year, and we never ever kill off a show’s handsome hero at the new height of its popularity.
  • To help its viewers avoid getting pulled completely into their televisions, American shows break for commercials every 5 or 10 minutes.
  • In a 2-hour season finale, our shows never end on the season’s lowest moment, especially not with 20 minutes left to go in a 2-hour show.

I first watched the show to see why so many of my friends were raving about it and to absorb a little history on public television. Then I realized I had begun taking considerable pleasure from imagining what it would be like to live like a wealthy, entitled, lazy, gluttonous snob. After some shows, I spoke with a British accent for a few minutes, and a couple of times I was carrying on my own conversations with some of the characters.

For example, here’s some of what I’ve heard myself saying to . . .

The stuck-up Crawleys

  • Lady Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith): The secret to good acting seems to be avoiding scripts where you don't have at least half the best lines.
  • Lord Robert (Hugh Bonneville): Your family needs you to care about them more than you care about your family’s image and traditions.
  • Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern): You are a beautiful rich lady, yet a more lasting beauty and wealth seems to come from within as you give yourself to those around you.
  • Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery): In the end, the ends of your life will not have justified       the means of your youth. So don’t use people for the love of money – why not try using your money to love people?
  • Tom Branson (Allen Leech): Do you see now that loving a beautiful woman and her countryside is way more rewarding than hating her king and his countrymen?
  • Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael): Use your head to guard your heart.
  • Isobel, Matthew’s mom (Penelope Wilton): Civility and compassion always allow you to rise above those who look down on you. You are a classy lady.
  • Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine): When you are old, rich, and shameless, not only can you       keep up with the styles, you can create them.

The suck-up servants

  • Mr. Carson (Jim Carter): There is no way they could be paying you what you are worth – you could be the headmaster at a CEO school!
  • Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan): You are the salt of the earth. Without you, not only would the food get spoiled and taste bad, but so would those around you.
  • John Bates (the footman, Brendan Coyle): A life well lived is surely the best revenge. But Dude, would it kill you to stand up for yourself sometimes instead of your principles?
  • Anna Smith (the housemaid, Joanne Froggatt): Ah, yes, the best things in life are indeed worth working and waiting for.
  • Thomas Barrow (would-be footman, Allen Leech): You are convincing me that without a dog, a cigarette is a bad man's best friend.

I would love to hear what these and other characters have said to you or what you would say to them. Shoot me an E-mail to drpaul@mynewlife.com, and I'll send you back a summary of my favorite responses to this column.


Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist and life coach who can be reached by visiting www.mynewlife.com or calling 502-633-2860.