In America, there’s no classier TV show to love than Downton Abbey — now that The Wire has been off the air for several years, at least. The ITV/PBS costume drama has just racked up 16 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series and six nods in the acting categories. But, amid a general consensus that the show’s second season — which took a particularly bad beating across the pond — paled in comparison to its first, not everyone agrees that the show deserves the hype. In fact, the Brits are kind of laughing at us.
“Looking at this year’s Emmy nominations, it’s hard not to crack the old joke about Americans being rendered powerless by the sight of a stately home,” writes Sarah Hughes in the Guardian, who apparently would have preferred to see Justified recognized. Digital Spy is also bemused by the nomination: “[T]he inclusion of Downton Abbey seems odd — it’s an unsurprising selection, given the feverish love the show has inspired over in the US, but even the period drama’s most ardent fans have to admit that series two was more than a little uneven,” writes Morgan Jeffrey.
Of course, American admiration and British criticism of Downton Abbey are nothing new. Back in February, The New York Times highlighted UK writers’ backlash against the show, observing that British historian Simon Schama had denounced it as “cultural necrophilia” in his explanation of why US viewers are so smitten with it, while poet James Fenton took to The New York Review of Books to complain about the classist revisionism of creator Julian Fellowes, “aka Julian Kitchener-Fellowes, aka the Conservative peer the Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, Lord of the Manor of Tattershall.” So, can Americans only enjoy Downton Abbey because its politics don’t affect us — or because we naïvely romanticize a time when England’s rich so blatantly exploited its poor? Or are these critics expecting too much accountability from a fun soap opera with period costumes?