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Sue Clark

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February 22, 2013
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‘Downton Abbey’ a social bonding tool

Editor’s note: Spoilers for “Downton Abbey” followers.

My phone rang at 10:30 last night. At my age, that in itself is cause for worry. I saw it was a friend of mine, and I prepared to drive to her house if she were sick or one of her dogs needed help.

“Who died?” I asked her.

“You know who died!” she sobbed. “I just watched ‘Downton.’ I knew you were watching it, too, and you’d understand.”

The PBS drama of the servants and upper-class residents of a huge English estate had captured us, as well as most people I know. In fact, you could meet new people and make small talk just by finding out if they were addicted to the show.

“I knew he had to be the one,” I said, adding in a slightly superior tone worthy of Lady Mary, “Didn’t you read that he was not extending his contract?”

My own daughter, who’d already watched the entire season, had kept the final surprises from me but did allow that a main character would die.

“No!” my friend wailed. “I found it online and watched straight through from the first episode. I’m destroyed.”

After watching Matthew’s death with hands over my eyes, peeking through my fingers and whimpering, I now found myself developing a stiff upper lip. I’d emulate the acerbic Dowager Countess Lady Violet, played by an unabashedly wrinkled, Botox-free Maggie Smith.

“Quit whining and find something to do,” I scolded. “Discontent is so unattractive.”

This made her laugh, even as she was mourning the death of one of the most likable characters, dear, rational cousin Matthew, the only man who loved the prickly, snobbish Lady Mary with unconditional charm.

“What will Mary do?” my friend wondered. I told her I’d immediately posted the comment, “Oh Lord, just saw Downton,” onto my Facebook site. One of my other friends had written, “Maybe Mary will get together with Tom.” (The former family chauffeur, who had married into the family).

“Not a chance,” I’d replied. “Mary is too snobbish for him.”

My niece had merely posted, “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!” On her site, a vigorous argument had broken out, as my nephew pronounced the whole show a soap opera, and another friend said she had detoxed from it for that reason.

But our hearts ached for Mary, alone with her new baby, for which she was already having mixed feelings. (“We’ve done our job; Downton has an heir.”)

Who in the world would ever put up with her like Matthew?

Meanwhile, another friend wrote, “Do NOT say anything about the last episode: we have to watch it tomorrow.”

Fat chance. Combining a show of the quality of “Downton” with modern access to social media makes secrecy impossible.

But I shall carry on.

Although I never watch TV, except for this over-the-top, melodramatic, maddening show, I’ve found another series to which I can cross-addict. The same friend who wants no spoilers has loaned me the first four seasons of “The Wire,” a show from a decade ago, which I’d heard about but never watched. Happily for me, it has the same flawed good guys (Baltimore police/gangsters) and complicated bad guys (Baltimore police/ gangsters).

Moving easily from English estate to drug-infested slums, I merely write, “Omar’s coming!” and I get more conversation online.

Sue Clark lives in Grass Valley.

Combining a show of the quality of “Downton” with modern access to social media makes secrecy impossible.


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The Union Updated Apr 6, 2013 10:56AM Published Feb 22, 2013 09:54PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.