I love PBS! This season there are two shows (both British) that I just can’t wait to see each week. The first is one the entire country seems to now be following DOWNTON ABBEY on Masterpiece Classics. (But I can’t resist gloating that I loved it back in Season One before all the Enmy nominations and accolades.) And what’s not to love about a country estate in the early 1900 Yorkshire countryside with beautiful women in elegant gowns, handsome men in the drawing room displaying charming British manners. But it is so much more than superficial appearances.
Each week the human drama unfolds: sibling rivalry, infidelity, jealousy, passions, love, losses, illegitimate children, bribery. Yet despite all the passion displayed it is a show so tastefully done I could watch it with my grandchildren. In the 2-hr episode last Sunday night there were four engagements, one wedding and one funeral. If that isn’t enough drama for one night, I don’t know what is. Not to mention the household staff with their own sagas and misfortunes reminiscent of Upstairs, Downstairs which ran for eight seasons in the 70s. The interaction between the aristocratic Crowley family and their staff reveals the love and concern they have for each member and touches me deeply. I would love to have a cup of tea in the servants’ kitchen as they banter one another as well as the Crowley’s drawing room where rules of civility prevail with each word, action and even their glances.
If you are just joining the bandwagon by all means find season one on DVD (Season Two is also on DVD already) so you can experience the entire rich back story. I won’t delve into plot spoilers here but trust me you won’t be disappointed with seasoned actors such as Dame Maggie Smith as the Dowager Violet (she has the best lines) Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern.
I’ve tried to analyze what is so appealing about this show and decided it is because each episode deals with universal truths and emotions--showing how even “good” people have character flaws and even scoundrels and villains have goodness in their hearts. It covers EVERY range of emotions but done with such genteel taste, (even sordid issues which could be done tastelessly as so often are in modern TV), you come away each week feeling you have been part of something beautiful...and a fascinating time in English history...an era and place where even with the backdrop of the horrible Great War and the Spanish Influenza, among death and destruction, people were kind to one another, civilized and mannered... and oh so courteous.
It is only fitting that they are beginning to film Season Three on Valentine’s Day because this is truly a love story of the greatest magnitude. Sadly, Season Two ends February 19. I will miss the Crowleys and will try to find a way to keep them alive till next season. Care to join me for tea in my drawing room?
My second favorite show on PBS is WILLIAM AND MARY. Billed as a romantic comedy it does make me laugh each week, but it also never fails to make me cry. William, a widower with two teen girls, falls in love with Mary, a divorcee with two teen boys. I know you’re thinking Brady Bunch, but on such a higher scale.
William is an undertaker and Mary is a midwife so between the two of them we see the cycle of life each week-- people coming into this world and leaving it. And of course these births and deaths are never easy...always extenuating circumstances. Let’s face it...births, deaths and falling in love...top three I would say in getting and keeping our attention.
The actors are British (Martin Clunes and Julie Graham) and not anyone famous you would recognize and perhaps that is also their appeal. They are quite ordinary looking (I love the gap in Mary’s toothy smile and William’s ears that protrude) but oh so special in other ways. Throw into the family mix : Mary’s mother, dying of cancer, an ex-husband who causes havoc with the boys at the most inopportune times and the usual angst of teen-agers finding their way. The only privacy William and Mary seem to find is where they have their heart-to-heart talks....in an old fashioned claw-legged bathtub.
Check it out. If you like real-life drama not glossed over and seeing a new-born seconds after birth and all the joy that evokes, and ZANY British supporting characters, I think you’ll like it! (William also plays in a rock-band...come on now, how many undertakers do you know who do that? See what I mean?)
And needless to say, I will volunteer to man the phones for PBS pledges next time around to support these wonderful programs and keep them coming.