Jim Crowe: Downton Abbey

Jan 2, 2019

Over the last two years, many Americans have developed strategies to stop watching too much news about President Trump. Because viewing too much Trump news leads to exasperation and mental frenzy, it’s healthy to watch less of it. My strategy is simple: I watch Downton Abbey.

“Downton Abbey?” a friend said. “You mean the British show, 1920s, where everyone’s overdressed? You still keep tabs on Lord Grantham, the Crawley sisters, and poor Mrs. Patmore downstairs, constantly whipping up souffles? Come on -- that show ended years ago.”

Yes, Downton Abbey did end. But not for me. Our fine digital age saved me. Just before Trump took office, WMHT ran a Downton Abbey Marathon, showing all six seasons – 48 episodes – over a three day span. Bringing all my digital skill to the couch, I successfully recorded 47 out of 48 shows. Somehow I missed one.

I have a good routine. Two nights a week, I return from the gym in late evening and plop on the couch.  “Until bedtime,” I say sleepily, “maybe I’ll watch that Chris Cuomo on CNN or Rachel Maddow on the other channel. They’re always a good time.” In a second I slap myself to my senses.

“No, you loon! Half the show will be endless Trump drama – weighty comments on his latest fiasco, wacky claim, or splendid international insult. Resist!” I find my next Downton Abbey episode on DVR, click, and let the comfort soak in.

Downton Abbey actually has a few elements that are similar to Trump drama. There’s scheming and scandal, backstabbing and desperate action. But luckily, the differences between the two shows are striking.

Part of the comfort of Downton is its norms and manners. Warm greetings and heartfelt words of congratulations outstrip bullying and disparagement by 20 to 1. On Downton, a man asks a woman to marry him and, befitting the times, it’s fully understood she might take a month to answer. “I will think about it,” the widow Mrs. Crawley says to her suitor’s proposal. “I truly will.”

Downton propels me on my Great Escape from Trump drama. Its language and wit is often a treat, and the Dowager Countess, Lady Grantham, is ever generous. A pompous, suddenly ruffled guest announces, “That’s it -- I am leaving this house on the first train in the morning. And Lady Grantham, I doubt we will ever meet again.”

“Do you promise?” she says.  

The other night, with Carson the butler facing a critical decision, he says, “If you’re asking whether I’ll regret leaving Downton, I will regret it every minute of every day. I thought I would die here and haunt it ever after.”

I can’t get that kind of language on Trump drama. Mostly Trump just folds his arms and says, “We’ll see what happens.” Or his longer version, “We’ll wait to see what happens, so I can react by impulse – my strong suit.”

I watch my Downton Abbey episodes in order, from 1 to 47. Since I watch two Downtons a week, I knew early on that my 47 episodes would never stretch to cover the full Trump term. I whipped through 1 to 47 in that wild man’s first six months. Though my friends and family disbelieve it, I am now in my fourth viewing of the full Downton Abbey Marathon.  Somehow, it doesn’t get stale. I would keep watching Downton even if Calvin Coolidge was President.

Over these last two years, delightful Downton Abbey has helped me reach my goal of avoiding 90% of Trump drama. The benefits are excellent – my mind is clear and my attitude is much better. From what friends tell me, I have missed a couple of porn star scandals and 87 rip-roaring Trump rallies. Long live Downton Abbey!

Essayist Jim Crowe is an Albany Resident

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