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Tony W. Cartledge | Blog

Entries in Downton Abbey (2)


Inside, outside

Downton Abbey fans were cheered Sunday night by the American premier of the "upstairs/downstairs" drama's fourth season on PBS. That's true, at least, for those who haven't cheated by watching the previously-aired British version.

One of the challenges for script-writer Julian Fellowes has been finding ways to explain the departure of actors who, despite the popularity of the show, decided to seek their fortunes elsewhere once their three-year initial contracts were up.

The first was Jessica Brown Findlay, who played Lady Sybil and decided she'd learned all she could from the Downton experience. Findlay has gone on to star in an American movie (Lullaby, not yet released) and a German-South African mini-series called Labyrinth. Knowing of her imminent departure, Fellowes had her die in childbirth from a rare condition called preeclampsia.

Explaining the upcoming absence of Dan Stevens, the actor behind the charming Matthew Crawley, was more difficult. Though often caught between romance and principle, Matthew relieved faithful viewers when he finally married Lady Mary after an up-and-down courtship, managing to tease some softness from her prickly personality. When Stevens chose not to re-up for Season 4, Fellowes had little choice but to kill off the vibrant young aristocrat, but not until the final scene of Season 3, when he crashed his AC convertible to avoid a delivery truck on a one-lane road. Crawley, who wanted to explore other roles, has gone on to act on-stage in The Heiress in New York, and to make several movies.

Season 4 opened with the departure of Siobhan Finneran, who played the snippy senior lady's maid Miss O'Brien. Whether colluding with footman-turned underbutler Thomas or conspiring against him (and anyone else who got in her way), O'Brien was dependably self-focused. Finneran said she had fun playing the role, but opted out after three seasons because "When I stop loving something, I stop doing it." Rather than script another demise, Fellowes set up O'Brien's departure with a family visit to the Scottish highlands, where she became a favorite of unhappy cousin Susan Fincher, who recruited O'Brien to accompany her and husband Shrimpy to a government post in India.

I've never been a fan of soap operas and don't watch any other TV dramas, so it remains a surprise to me that I enjoy Downton Abbey. Perhaps it's because Fellowes finds ways to redeem even the nastiest of characters while showing that the more upright folk have their lapses, too. Perhaps it's because even the sternest of characters are shown to have hearts and show unexpected compassion.

And, perhaps, because every unexpected departure reminds me to cherish the people of my own world, with all their positives and their peccadilloes. One never knows when life may take them in a different direction.


The Wide World of Stuff Other Than Sports

Some folks might consider me an embarrassment to my gender, but I confess to being far more hyped over last night's American premier of Downton Abbey on PBS than today's BCS title game between Alabama and Notre Dame on ESPN.

Image from USA Today sportsI do plan to watch the game, with book in hand or computer in lap, and I have a preference about who wins (an Alabama victory will make Georgia, whom they barely defeated, look better). But I won't yell at the TV or get riled up or lose any sleep over the outcome -- and if the game appears to be decided early, I'll get to bed sooner.

A CBS reporter this morning commented on the mania surrounding the match, described the game as "the biggest event ever on ESPN," and said the asking price for some tickets had reached $60,000 on StubHub.

That's insane. I wouldn't brave the crowd and attend the game if I you gave me tickets and a round trip ticket to Miami (though I might take the trip and sell the tickets). I understand the adrenaline rush that comes with being part of the crowd and seeing history in the making, but I can get my endorphins pumping on the elliptical walker, see the game a whole lot better on television, and avoid spending hours in traffic.

And did you hear the news? Hockey is back! And I have neighbors who actually care. I'm glad that the ordinary folks who rely on jobs in the arenas and associated businesses can get more work now, but I have no more interest in hockey results than in NBA basketball or a preschool inchworm race.

And the time and effort many people put into fantasy leagues? Don't get me started.

I could go on, but prefer not to test readers' snark factor. Sports can be exciting and offer a welcome diversion at times. Sometimes even I find certain games exciting, but a word of perspective is in order. In life, sports really should be peripheral: many other things -- the work we do and the people around us, for example -- are far more important.

And I'll try to remember that, even when Duke is playing Carolina in basketball.