On Not Watching Downton Abbey With My Wife

A couple of months ago, my wife returned from a plane trip with a blush on her face and a secret. There seemed to be something a little bit different about her — a spring in her step that hadn’t been there before, a giggle and some reddened cheeks. Occasionally, she would stare off into space and simply smile.

Eventually, the subject of the change came up. “I began watching something.” She said, “without you.” Not only was I  shocked, but felt somewhat betrayed.

Anyone who reads this blog somewhat regularly knows what an affront this is. After all, am I not the man who watches along as my wife views the latest episode of BunheadsAll the Right Moves, or even, ANTM: College Edition?

Top Model College – where I finally learned the term “smeyes”.

I set out to make it right. To see what the appeal was. To see what she saw in the show. And in the meantime, I ended up getting a little bit hooked.

And so it began, just a little at a time. I watched with my 4-month-daughter as I fed her from a bottle and realized that not only was it the perfect amount of time to feed and give her a little nap in my arms, as my wife was at work.

Two things struck me about Downton (as my wife calls it). The first thing is that there’s this little blushing thing that happens when she talks about certain characters and their respective love stories. It’s a little shy thing that I never quite expected from her, because she regularly has a really strong personality.

The other thing that I realized, slowly, as I got into season two, was how little the things that initially motivated my interest – the historical aspects of the sinking Titanic, the coming of World War One – was how incidental they were to the plot, which was ultimately always far more interested in prolonged love-affairs that may or may not happen.

Will Matthew and Mary, uh, marry?

I think that there is also something to be said about nostalgia for class in Britain, and America’s obsession with the nobility. Of course, the British craft this sort of story better than anyone else. It seems that the UK in its heyday, almost stands in for a projected dream world for Americans, perhaps accounting for the show’s wild popularity and the popularity of other British shows as they make their way stateside

I find it impossible not to notice the small stable of British actors who not only star in this show, but also appear in Game of Thrones – making for occasionally odd moments when I realize that one actor is playing a character in a show that I watch at the same time, occasionally resulting in my difficulty in separating the characters from the two shows – such as the case of Iain Glen, who not only plays Sir Richard Carlyle on Downton, but Ser Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones.

Iain Glen as Ser Jorah Mormont, er, Sir Richard Carlyle…

What remains, as we move into season three tonight, is my excitement for my wife. To see her show return. For us to discuss and (perhaps) share the watching of the season together as we watch the ups and downs of the Granthams and their servants. For me to find articles for her about the production and season spoilers and for us to occasionally pretend that we haven’t read and know what we know in advance, and that everything will be a surprise until we let the other one knew that we knew that thing was going to happen.

I would love to hear what others think of the show. Are there any other husbands who watch with their wives? Are there wives out there who watch the show apart from their husbands and for whom this is their moment away from the ins and outs of marriage. Independent voters? Hate-watchers? Drinking game partipants? Slash fiction writers? Historical buffs who laud the show for its accuracy, or are there simply folks swept up in the phenomenon?

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One response to “On Not Watching Downton Abbey With My Wife

  1. Interesting entry. I’m a long time fan of British period dramas. As a teen, I cut my cinematic teeth on various Merchant Ivory films. I’m also a general fan of BBC productions and I naturally assumed that a PBS rebroadcast of a British costume drama would have originated from the Mighty Beeb. I was struck however during the moment when Mary’s dead lover had to be extricated from her bed in the middle of the night. My first thought was “this isn’t something the BBC would do!” My grad school brain immediately went into a self-reflexive mode. And I mentally chastised myself for such a thought. I was making an elistist value judgment and I disparaging the sort of excess that I try to somewhat champion or at least recuperate in my own scholarly endeavors. Yet the scene in question was just so “soapy” that I was compelled to go online to see who had produced the program. I learned that it was NOT a BBC show but rather as program from the commercial digital british channel ITV. I cannot help but wonder if the Dynasty-esque elements of Downton Abbey are what make it so accessible to otherwise middle-brow American audiences.

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