I'm Going Into Period Drama Withdrawal

No, this isn't about my vageen. It's about how Downton Abbey is kicking US lady shows' collective ass.
Publish date:
September 30, 2011
TV, women, Downton Abbey, the tudors

Why didn't anyone tell me about "The Tudors" earlier? Actually scratch that, I'm glad no one did because if someone had convinced me to pay for HBO four years ago I would've eventually ended up on the streets between 2007 and 2010. Those were some of my most productive years work-wise.

Deadlines? What deadlines? I'm too engrossed in the Protestant reformation, Anne Boleyn's eyes and King Henry VIII's insane quest for immortality to worry about no stinking deadlines! Add to that all the juicy tidbits about 16th-century feminism, which I think was called heresy, and a woman's inherent need to be "satifisfied" and you've got yourself a regular renaisaance "Sex and the City." Are you an Anne or a Jane?

When my 14-inch private screening of the series came to a end last week, I slammed my laptop shut with all the pent-up agression of a toddler. No more Tudors for me. No more escaping into a world of layered language, frosting-colored costumes and thinly sliced scandal. Also, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry VIII was a delicious treat. I ate him in stolen bites at first, sneaking an hour here and an hour there as my schedule allowed. Then, when I couldn't temper my appetite any longer, I gorged on the fourth and final season in one friggin' day. Yes, I felt ashamed afterward.

But not abashed enough to throw away my addiction entirely. On the contrary, my dear fellows, the flames of my penchant for super fandom have been reignited by the gentle breeze of a new pastoral pastime. I'm talking about "Downton Abbey," ya'll.

Oh my God, Mary why are you such a lovable yet bitter bitch? Oh, and Edith! Poor Edith, why do you want to be Mary so badly. You're better than her, girl. And Sybil, you budding corset-burner you. I couldn't imagine a better threesome if Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Ryan Gosling showed up at my door with the Season One DVD box set in UPS boxer briefs.

After The Tudors took my maiden's head, I was ready and willingly for Masterpiece Theatre. Like its predecessor Downton Abbey, which doesn't premiere season two in the US until January 2012, is a family drama with feminist intrigue disguised as a period piece. The women of both series all want to be married but then also want independence. They have thoughts and opinions. Their mothers all have crazy cases of the grandbabies. Their male suitors can't decide between docile and diva. It's all very historical wrapped in "things haven't changed" covered in English accents. I can't get enough.

What's most interesting to me, besides the fact that none of the popular period pieces on primetime (say that five times fast) feature anyone of color in any significant role, is that the most recent wave of Mad Men-adjacent shows that overtly feature female story lines aren't even close to as good. "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club" are small potatoes compared to what's being written for the women of Downton:

Lady Edith: "So he slipped the hook?"

Lady Mary: "At least I'm not fishing with no bait."

Cora, Countess of Grantham: "Are we to be friends then?"

Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: "We are allies, which can be a good deal more effective."

I couldn't even find an interesting quote from "Pan Am" or "The Playboy Club" and I looked for at least 10 minutes. Point is, with lady shows becoming the new thing as pointed out by Lesley and Julieanne I would hope that smart storylines could come from someone other than a "lady." But titles don't mean much these days. A lady show set in the 60s is clearly just a lad show with more leg. So for now I'll be anxiously awaiting the January premiere (pronounce PREM-ear) of Downton Abbey to get my smart female fix.