Last night, Public Television's Masterpiece series opened the second season of Downton Abbey, the latest in a long string of programmes[sic] about rich English people. American television viewers seem to have an insatiable appetite for rich English people, eagerly consuming Downton Abbey, Upstairs/Downstairs, the complete works of Jane Austen and various other 19th century English novels about rich (or want-to-be-rich) folks. Even the Masterpiece Mysteries series is mainly about which rich English person murdered which other rich English person. Apparently there's some deep yearning among television viewers to be rich English people, despite the fact that most of these stories are set in a time before the advent of indoor plumbing.
Typically, for contrast, these stories alternate between the lives of the rich English people themselves, and those of their below-stairs staffs, including cooks, maids and butlers. This creates the dramatic tension of a visual volley between House Beautiful and a Williams-Sonoma catalog.
For those of you who missed all 47 airings of this episode on the 12 different Public Television stations near you, here's a brief recap. Spoiler alert: There are no spoilers except the rich English parents. In fact, this review was written before I actually saw the show.
The offspring of the rich English people, suffering the cruel fate of having every conceivable human desire gratified, become bored and rebel against the etiquette and propriety of their class. They engage in scandalous behavior such as going out alone or without a hat. This incurs the wrath of their proper rich English parents, but a knowing wink from the mischievously (4 syllables, please) playful grandparent/uncle/aunt/whatever.
Meanwhile, below stairs, the staff panic at the impending shortage of quince, which interrupts their near-constant bed swapping. When not thus occupied, they spend their time learning and sharing the dark secret that is invariably hidden in someone's past.
Oh, and some dramatic historical event intrudes on their lives.
Tune in next week for more.