Looking back on this little blog of mine, I notice that I’ve devoted
a ridiculous amount of time quite a few posts to exploring the writing of Downton Abbey. Even with the unevenness of Season Two, I still maintain it has been the best thing on television in years.
I’ve been watching Mad Men for the past fives seasons, and during the wait for the Downton Season 3 I’ve been comparing the two. I think Mad Men is great television. The writing is tight, witty and complex. But what really differenitates it from Downton (besides the obvious that it takes place 40 years later and an ocean away) is the darkness that pervades the writing. There is a sadness and hopelessness that never really lifts from the characters or their story lines. On the very best of days Don Draper is only anemically hopeful that maybe his life won’t come crashing down just yet.
Not one character is unscathed–Don’s daughter Sally is a hot mess waiting to happen, Betty is imprisoned in her self-centeredness, Peggy is willing to throw her morals to the curb to climb the ladder, and Roger–oh how how I love you, Roger–is a pickled cad. Truly, there is not one character who even seems aware of the possibility of redemption.
Some might scoff and point to the goodness of the Downton characters as overly sentimental. I disagree. I think for all the Edwardian trappings, Downton folks are much more nuanced than the Mad Men crew. Much as in real life, every character is capable of being the good guy and the bad guy; of seeing the beauty of the world one day and being suffocated by darkness the next. But what the characters of Downton seem to possess, to varying degrees, is the underlying belief that even in the darkest times they will behold beauty again. I just don’t sense that the Mad Men characters feel that.
It all leads me to daydream about the Dowager Duchess hopping a steamship over to Manhattan and setting the guys and gals at Sterling Draper Cooper Pryce straight. Suffice it to say, I don’t think she would find Megan’s little birthday song appropriate.