'Downton Abbey' enamors students with historical drama
Published: Friday, February 8, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 8, 2013 02:02
A revival of petticoats, fancy hairstyles, chaperones and elaborately served meals has taken televisions and hearts by storm across America and the UK.
Period pieces – creative works that take place in earlier time periods – have come back into popularity with a vengeance. Set in early 20th century England, the critically acclaimed television show “Downton Abbey” is garnering an audience of millions, transporting viewers to a time when trousers and brooches were worn often and tea was ingested copiously.
“I think ‘Downton’ is popular because it combines the classiness of the early 20th century with the drama of shows like‘Grey’s Anatomy,’” said sophomore psychology major Madison Yarbrough. “We are interested in the way things were run, how our culture today can relate to theirs.”
Callie Hobbs, sophomore horticulture major and self-proclaimed fan of the popular television show, said she likes “Downton Abbey” because of the alternative drama and unfamiliar time period.
“Their lives are so different,” Hobbs said. “It’s cool to see how they lived day in and day out.”
Mary Ann O’Farrell, associate English professor, said shows such as “Downton” are popular with audiences because they allow viewers a dramatic glimpse back into history.
“To some degree, they do try to stay true to the period,” O’Farrell said. “They let us be nostalgic about our past.”
“Downton Abbey” tells the story of the Crawleys, an aristocratic family in post-Edwardian England in the early 20th century, and their servants. It has won six Primetime Emmys, a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series and has been nominated for several more awards.
The fan reception of the program has been significant. The season three premiere alone drew 7.9 million viewers to PBS, according to the Huffington Post— four times the average rating for any PBS primetime program. What truly seems to draw people into the world of “Downton Abbey” is something called the closeness, or distance factor.
“I would say ‘Downton Abbey’ is comfort TV,” O’Farrell said. “It allows us to think about modern day problems with some distance. The characters are enough like us to where we can relate, but distant enough to where we’re not overly anxious or stressed when thinking about the issues it brings up.”
“Downton Abbey” is not the first period piece to be popular among audiences. Movies such as “Pride & Prejudice” and mini series featured by PBS’s Masterpiece Classics segment have also gained wide renown among viewers in the past.
“It’s like TV of manners,” O’Farrell said. “It lets us think about how people behaved back then, with a beautiful set, clothes and fine dining.”
O’Farrell said the period piece trend functions in a sort of cycle, gaining and losing popularity again and again over time.
“This is a recurring theme,” O’Farrell said. “This trend tends to take a hiatus, and then it comes back.”
“Downton Abbey”is still going strong, with 6.6 million viewers tuning in to watch the Crawley family on Super Bowl Sunday, according to the Nielson ratings – far outstripping the second-most-watched show of the night, “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” by about four million. The season is scheduled to wrap up on Sunday, Feb. 17 with a 90-minute special.