One of the surest signs that Downton Abbey has become a full-blown hit and pop-cult phenomenon is the mini- and strained flap that has erupted about whether it is snobbish or middle-brow or an old-fashioned soap opera. I don’t see why it can’t be all three. The series satisfies our indulgent fantasies of an old-fashioned life of leisure. Of course we know it’s pure illusion; even Michelle Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, told David Letterman about her working-class roots, and the fact that her ancestors would surely have worked downstairs. But what a satisfying fantasy!
Middle-brow? Fine; let’s admit it isn’t breaking fresh artistic ground. And soapy? But of course! That’s one of its delicious, cliff-hanging joys.
Another sign that it has seeped into the culture as thoroughly as any network hit: all the mashups, parodies and on-line references. The big wide world of people who have not seen Downton gets the allusions to it more than a reference to 2 Broke Girls.
Here’s a selection of the best Downton humor.
TOP DOWAGER COUNTESS LINES
You might credit writer Julian Fellowes with the creation of Downton’s world, but its smartest, sharpest wit comes from Maggie Smith’s delivery as the Dowager Countess. Nothing is likely to surpass her enduring line, “What is a weekend?” And you do realize she is always right?
DOWNTON WATCHES THE SUPER BOWL
For conflicted households everywhere; thank goodness for DVR’s.
UPTOWN DOWNSTAIRS ABBEY
This spoof of Downton and its inspiration, Upstairs, Downstairs, goes back to last season, but if you missed the all-star BBC parody, it is truly spectacular. And Matthew hadn’t even marched off to war yet.
PATTON OSWALT TWEETS
Patton Oswalt continues to Tweet his love for the show, more delirious and much sharper than any fan boy’s affection for laser swords.
Among the latest from @pattonoswalt:
“Really hope Bates and Anna get a chance to open that motel. Wait, no...Bates Motel?”
“Oh FUCK YOU, Sir Richard. You do NOT poach Carson."
THE SPIKE TV VERSION
All that’s missing is SNL’s parody from last week, which gave us Spike TV’s promo for Downton. In Spike’s not-inaccurate description of it as "Fancy Entourage" it’s a show about people who all wear tuxedos and “live in a church, or maybe it’s a museum, but either way – they don’t got WiFi,” and crazily receive their news by mail. For their own unspecified reasons, NBC has not posted a clip on-line, and has taken down some that have made their way to YouTube. If you search, say, here, I am not legally responsible.