March 7, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Downton Abbey”


In this era of peak TV, there are more shows than ever that we devour, that we obsess about and are thrilled by and that shock us and tear us apart.  There are fewer, however, that we simply love.  Julian Fellowes’s DOWNTON ABBEY was a canny mix of the old-fashioned and new-fangled, aristocracy porn set at a racing pace, where the aristocrats were as numerous downstairs in the great house as upstairs.  It had plenty of life and death crises, but it could also spin an entire story arc over whether Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) would ever be satisfied with Mrs. Hughes’s (Phyllis Logan) cooking, or the politics behind the gardening contest at the town fair.  Long-winded and sometimes creaky, it had a great theme in the passage of history from 19th century traditions to the revolutions of the 20th, and a cast-iron superstructure derived from its many sharply drawn characters (and the expert actors who played them).

Tonight, it all came to its US end (as usual, it had concluded in the UK a few months ago), with a cornucopia of happy endings that extended to just about everyone (except PBS, which has lost the anchor of its pledge drives).   Fellowes’s generosity was boundless, with romances, births, marriages, paternal approvals, new hairstyles, sibling acceptances, quips for the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) and new opportunities for all by the time “Auld Lang Syne” was sung on New Year’s Eve 1926.  Most of the plot turns that initially seemed downbeat were reversed by the closing credits, as Lady Isabel’s (Penelope Wilton) swain Lord Merton’s (Douglas Reith) anemia turned out not to be fatally pernicious after all, and Barrow’s (Rob-James Collier) departure was not only temporary, but had a tidy bump up to butler when he returned to Downton.  Even the one bittersweet storyline was handled as softly as possible:  Carson was revealed to have a Parkinson’s-like disease that forced him to step down, but we were assured that he would remain a sort of butler emeritus to Barrow, supervising grand dinners and the like.

The good spirits, though, were dominated–and properly so–by the happily-ever-after of Downton‘s Cinderella, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael).  Victimized by her sister Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) out of her engagement, in as dark a storyline as Downton ever allowed, Edith not only ended up with her prince Bertie–well, technically a Marquis–but it was through Mary’s own machinations, and Edith garnered the approvals of her father the Earl (Hugh Bonneville) and Bertie’s initially dour mum as well, illegitimate daughter Marigold and all.

Despite its airs of social commentary, Downton Abbey was, after all, mostly a fairy tale, and not one that wanted to leave its audience discomforted or sad.  Fellowes, who wrote virtually the entire series himself, spins a yarn as well as anyone around, and even if he was subject to periodic cringe-inducing plot twists (remember the fake Crawley cousin?), his storytelling was always richly compelling.  He was blessed as well with a cast as remarkable as it was huge.  As with The Wire, The Sopranos, Friday Night Lights and other TV classics, the actors who appeared in Downton Abbey are fated to carry those personas around for the rest of their careers, so that even if they’re perfectly playing a character 180 degrees removed from their Downton roles, viewers will see it as “Hey, look at Anna playing a serial killer!” or the like.  The designers of the series, from its sets to its costumes and hair and make-up, did virtuoso work throughout.

And since Downton Abbey is a 21st-century tale of commerce as well as a fairy tale, the hints are broad that we may not have seen the last of its stories after all:  Fellowes has spoken about the possibility of a movie follow-up, and there are spin-off possibilities galore.  With financiers as indomitable as the Crawleys and those who serve them, Downton‘s doors are far from fully closed.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."