A recent article I read said that the cultural differences between America and Britain are never more clear than the TV genre that dominates the channels during an economic downturn. Over the Atlantic, it’s all apocalypses and zombies. Visions of dystopia, if you will. Here in Britain, we wallow in nostalgia. Bonnets and crinoline skirts flurry alongside top hats and waistcoats. The reason for this gap I would argue is that America perhaps has less of a past from which to pluck this nostalgia from (omitting The Waltons and the suchlike), so is more comfortable living in the present and looking to future when times are bad. Us Brits meanwhile imagine a time when these problems never happened. Not that such a time ever existed, but we are good at doing ostrich impersonations when we want to.

Downton Abbey is the current reigning monarch of such rose-tinted television. It’s soppy and sentimental, nice things eventually happen to nice people, the wicked are allowed to get so far with their plans before they are thwarted, and when problems occur they are conveniently swept away by some happy coincidence. Every plot development is sign-posted to such an extent even an Apple map would be able to pick up the thread, and everybody is so bloody polite to everyone. Even the villains utter their dastardly thoughts in a courteous way. It is, quite frankly, a soap.

And you know what? I love it.

I am not a sucker for nostalgia. I sit through very few other period dramas, even ones based on novels I have read. I cannot abide those history programmes that force people to live life in a previous era. And Upstairs, Downstairs is deathly dull. Yet Downton works its magic on me, and I cannot figure why. Is it the writing? No. Julian Fellowes saves all his best lines for Maggie Smith, and some of the secondary characters are given pure pap to spout. The plotting? Unlikely. 90% of the story arc is guessable within 5 minutes of it starting, and I have only ever been surprised twice (the first when O’Brien planted a soap for Lady Grantham to slip on, the second at Lady Sybil’s death).

Perhaps if this programme lacks depth then maybe the reasons why I and millions of others love it lack it too. Maybe it is designed not to be scrutinised but just enjoyed, like a brilliant piece of costume jewellery that is stuffed full of fake gems. Or maybe, just maybe, it is actually rather good, and we are have just been spoilt by the glut of other high-quality dramas on offer.

Nah. It’s a soap. A well-executed soap, but a soap nonetheless. So shut up and enjoy it.

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