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The new season of “Downton Abbey” has begun, and its popularity has grown since its first season, which previously had aired on British television in 2010. The series has just been released to Netflix in the past year, allowing viewers to stream it on their phones, computers, and televisions at any time.
This could have contributed to success of the first season, but season two has seen even more viewer popularity despite only being available on the PBS network. Downton Abbey is a historical drama that follows the ups and downs of an aristocratic British family set in Edwardian times. Reuters.com says that it is “a show we shouldn’t be watching,” but that “the hype about ‘Downton’ is deserved.”
American television viewers are used to the repeating and uncreative plots of daytime soap operas and the reality shows like the “Housewives” series and “Mob Wives”. Downton Abbey does not have much in common with any of these shows and lacks the typical nudity, swearing, cat-fights, and bursting out in song like many other popular American shows.
Yet, despite being a complete outsider in terms of American television, Downton Abbey has inspired a line of jewelry on PBS.com (the network on which the show airs), food articles based solely upon the food scenes in the show, and even has book publishers scrambling to put together publications on par with the show in hopes of getting fans to buy their products. Julie Bosman of the New York Times says that “Publishers are convinced that viewers who obsessively tune in… are likely to devour books on subjects the series touches.”
Why has Downton Abbey caught the attention of the American audiences? Reuters.com believes that in line with the recent cancellations of daytime soap operas, viewers are turning to series like ‘Downton’ which has a soap opera feel, but with a more original storyline and plot twists. The actors are also key to the viewer success.
Reuters.com claims that the actors and actresses of this series are “just good-looking enough” for the audience to concentrate more on the storyline and lives of the characters rather than getting distracted by the sex appeal and private lives of actors used in the popular show.
Not everyone seems overjoyed and addicted to this new series though, especially historians. Just days after the show was awarded a Golden Globe, historian Simon Schama called Downton Abbey ”cultural necrophilia.” He went on to say that the show is historically inaccurate and that the show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, has romanticized the history to attain better ratings.
In its defense, producer Gareth Neame said that “‘Downton’ is a fictional drama, not a history program.” Mail Online points out that Schama is known for numerous historical documentaries, but has been criticized for “‘dumbing down’ history and being a ‘populist’.”
Despite the criticism, Downton Abbey has made it through to a second season, even though Fellowes had only planned it to be a mini-series. Viewers continue to tune in to this melodrama and British culture seems to be taking off in America, perhaps aided by the popularity of the recent marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.