Downton Abbey Is Just a Telenovela with British Accents (Spoilers)
Nick Briggs/© Carnival Films
For Downton Abbey fans, Miami's a pretty lonely place.
In other parts of the country, obsessed superfans have spent months actively searching for (or actively avoiding) spoilers about the fourth season, beginning this Sunday. They've been chatting non-stop about the death of Matthew, speculating about the future of Sybil's son, and stocking up on Downton-branded wine and tea for their watch parties this weekend.
In Miami, meanwhile, if you bring up the show, you're mostly likely to get a shrug in response: "That's some boring-ass white people shit, bro."
Downton haters do have a point; the show definitely loves its white people. (The series will introduce its first black character this season.) But if you can get past the issue of race -- and really, how many people of color can you expect to find in a realistic reenactment of rich, rural England in the early 1900s? -- you'll discover that Downton Abbey is just a telenovela in disguise.
Forget about the awards and the critical acclaim. Ignore the British accents and ornate costumes and sets. Downton Abbey is a straight-up soap opera, with themes taken straight out of the over-the-top telenovela handbook.
Rival women? Look no further than Mary and Edith Crawley, who in season one spat over just about everything. Lady Mary is beautiful but spoiled; Lady Edith is plain and suffers from some serious middle child syndrome. They're constantly undermining each other, all the way down to Edith's ratting Lady Mary's secret affair out to a Turkish Ambassador.
Star-crossed lovers? Check. The main love story of the first season is that of Lady Mary and Matthew, who have a drawn-out, Pride and Prejudice-style courtship filled with petty misunderstandings and near-miss looks of longing. She's a pampered lady from the country with old-fashioned ideas about living rich; he's a 9-to-5-er from the city who rejects the idea of being waited on hand and foot. Can they ever find true love? (Spoiler: yes.)
Secret affairs? That's the very foundation of Downton Abbey plotlines. Mr. Bates and housemaid Anna sneak around the backs of the rest of the Downton staff like horny teenagers. When a suitor shows up at the estate for one of the girls, footman Thomas beds him instead. Lady Mary hops into bed with a "handsome Turk" losing her virginity and chances at a decent marriage in the process. And then HE DIES. Is there anything more over-the-top and dramatic than that?
But it's not just the overall themes of the plot that fall into line with telenovelas. It's the little things, too. There's no such thing as a poker face in the world of Downton Abbey. Letters are read with raised eyebrows and wide eyes. The camera lingers on the reaction shots of its characters at the end of almost every scene, their faces contorting to the point of emotional absurdity as the music swells. Ay dios mio!
The takeaway is this: Soapy tropes work for people all over the world, whether they're in Manchester or Manaus. Or Miami, for that matter. So give Downton a chance, folks. Because 8.2 million Americans can't be wrong ... and I'm gonna need someone to dish with on Monday morning.
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.
Send your story tips to Cultist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.