TV: Downton Abbey (Season 4)

So Downton Abbey continues, and while I still follow and enjoy it, I’m convinced it doesn’t have much more to say. Season four pushes the series into the 1920s, which shifts the fashions and historical backdrop in new directions. But the goings-on at Downton are much the same. Upstairs, the aristocracy wrestles with the slow, gradual erosion of their wealth and status in the face of a shifting sociopolitical landscape. Meanwhile, downstairs the servants struggle to balance their traditional duties with a growing awareness of the unjust system they are locked into, and work to better their lives.

This season has its fair share of tiresome subplots (Mary’s grief, the Mary-Tony-Charles courtship triangle, Edith’s missing boyfriend) and one hugely problematic one (oh, Anna) that reeks somewhat of writers struggling to find things for the cast to do. Its commentary also feels repetitive; for example, the Rose-Jack romance, which is basically a variation on the Sybil-Branson romance. This late in the game, the show feels more like a rambling soap opera than an insightful window into the past.

Even so, Downton Abbey still has its classy look, its cast of well defined and sympathetic characters, and its sharp-witted dialogue. Instead of tuning in for storylines, I’m tuning in for moments. I still get a kick out of Carson (Jim Carter) and the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith). I adore the relationship between Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) and Daisy (Sophie McShera). And generally I’m invested in the world and enjoy visiting it. Hopefully season five will restore some its early greatness to give it a grand finale.

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