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Sunday nights routine is changing


Millions of viewers are hooked on Downton Abbey

Eleanor Van BurenI have a routine on Sunday nights. I enjoy a home-cooked meal and watch “60 Minutes.” After the ticking clock has expired the promised stories of African lions, robotic limbs and movie-star philanthropy work, I saunter towards my backpack, left exactly where I plopped it behind the couch Friday afternoon, sling it over my shoulder and lug it upstairs to begin my homework due the next morning. Not so atypical of a senior. Yet, over winter break, I found my routine somewhat blessed, somewhat cursed and completely capsized.

With no homework to rush into Sunday night after watching CBS (not that I exactly rush, because that would imply an enthusiasm or haste not found before getting back to the grind) over the break, I had a relaxing night ahead of me. I quickly rejected the idea of suggesting a round of Lord of the Rings Monopoly to my mother again, because I would lose again. Besides, nothing is relaxing about trusting your fate to two six-sided dice, one with an evil Sauron eye on it. I decided to see what my mother was up to anyways, because it was the holidays and you’re supposed to do stuff like that. I found her in front of the television watching a recording of PBS. “Great,” I thought, “maybe it will at least be Zoboomafoo.” I settled in and she played the recording.

I had heard mysterious chatter about the cinematography and couture of Downton Abbey, but until I experienced my first taste of the Masterpiece sensation, the attractiveness of such a period drama didn't begin to crystallize. My attraction to the show is perhaps because all of it is attractive: the people, the place and the grandeur, or perhaps because I was able to jump into the second season without feeling like I missed a beat (except Kemal Pamuk’s last when he died in season one). Above all, it offered a strange paradox: something beautiful for you to escape into, but full of dark twists and turns destined to capture you like a haunting sonata repeated in one’s head.

Entering high-society life in early 20th century Britain is a plunge, if not a headache. And the Crawley family offers no exception. At Downton, the Earl and Countess of Grantham preside over the estate, while trying to ensure its inheritance to protect and secure a future for their three daughters, Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Lady Sybil. Already with many adverse and historical forces opposing the nature of the inheritance, such as the sinking of the Titanic, World War I and Spanish influenza, the family struggles internally as the Crawley sisters experience new love, old love and lost love.

Unlike many dramas that rely too heavily on a predictable path of archetypal characters, Downton Abbey constantly moves through time, allowing the characters to evolve. Season three, which began last Sunday, welcomes the century’s second decade, and eight years have passed between the characters since their introduction in 1912. The first episode of the new season, which was viewed by 7.9 million Americans, featured the marriage of Lady Mary to Matthew Crawley, the third cousin of the Earl of Grantham and rightful heir to Downton. Unattainable yet all the while flirtatious in the first season, Lady Mary matures into a position of poise, ready to accept the inheritance, through her marriage to Matthew. Overall, viewers see how Mary cherishes her relationships after the war, and her long-awaited romance with Matthew has made Lady Mary a fan favorite.

The downstairs of Downton — the world of the servants — offers a much needed escape from Crawley drama, but do not expect palm trees and piña coladas: the staff offers equally wrenching plotlines and many of them. I also find the servants to offer quick witticisms, from Mr. Carson, the butler, to the exchanges between Mrs. Patmore, the head cook, and her assistant, Daisy. On the whole, the show has quite a bit of humor considering its genre.

There is no question that the popularity of Downton Abbey will continue to rise. It is now one of the most widely viewed television shows in the world. Like many other viewers captured by the charm of the show, I will have to find time to watch the years that come and go for the Crawley family. And as each character embarks on a new era in history, I too have begun a new era in my Sunday night routine.

Eleanor Van Buren is a senior at Riverdale High School and writes a monthly column for the Review. To contact her email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..