Thursday, February 21, 2013

How Downton Abbey makes cliches work...


Since we’re talking a lot about TV this week I thought I would throw my recent favorite into the mix. I love Downton Abbey. For the time period, for the costumes, and sadly yes… for the clichés.
I’ve never seen a show more riddled with cliché plot lines in my life. It’s as if Julian Fellows (writer and creator) has said to his staff… find me every ridiculous cliché that’s ever been beaten to death and write a scene with it.

A list which includes:
1.      I can’t marry you because I’m already married but my wife is crazy and lives in an asylum. (See Jane Eyre.)

2.      Watch out for the bar of soap on the floor because you’re pregnant and if you slip, you will miscarry. (Why does the person getting out of the bathtub never see the soap? Ever wonder that?)

3.      Youngest daughter falls in love with chauffer. Only to get married, get pregnant and die of… eclampsia. (It’s as if no woman who died in childbirth did so from anything else.)

4.      Everything is working out so well in my life. I’m so happy. I think I’ll take a drive with the top down. (I won’t tell you what happened here – but I’m assuming you can guess.)

This shouldn’t work. Anyone watching should shrug and say been there and done that and this is nothing new. But this show is a tremendous hit. It’s up for acting awards. It has a huge following.
I saw that car on the road and knew immediately what was coming, but still I was riveted. Riveted and screaming at my television… Nooooo!!!!

Total cliché. Absolutely worked. Does that mean we should all revert to clichés? No of course not. I try really really hard to avoid them… like the plague.
But Downton does teach us that if done well, compelling drama, can break all the rules.

10 comments:

Maureen McGowan said...

I keep trying to figure out why that show works too. I have a few writer friends who HATE it and I can't argue with any of their reasons. And yet, I pretty much love it.

I read an article not long ago (It wasn't here was it?) where the writer was describing how all the main characters have really positive central values they never waver from... and that's why we like them.

And during that car driving scene, I was simultaneously yelling "Teally? Really???" at the screen while trying not to tear up.

So manipulative. So cliche. So fun.

Maureen McGowan said...

Teally. I was yelling teally. LOL.

Eileen said...

I actually had my hands over my face for the car-driving scene. I knew what was coming and couldn't bear it.

And the soap thing? Do you know how many times I fell when I was pregnant? Quite a few. It takes a little more than that to miscarry.

I'm not entirely sure why it all works so well, either. I'm hooked on it entirely. Although I do feel like this last seasons wasn't as good as the first two.

Maureen McGowan said...

For me and the soap thing... It wasn't so much the plausibility of whether it might happen...

But the idea that O'Brian *planned* for it to happen. That, to me, was crazy. How did she know exactly where Lady Grantham's foot would come down? How did she know she wouldn't look down before getting out? How did she know she wouldn't catch her balance? It was all so far-fetched. But clearly it was *so* premeditated that it's useful for blackmail purposes 10? years later (Or however many years we've moved forward now...)

But still, I do love watching the show. :)

smittenkittenorig said...

I must admit that while I happily rolled with those mentioned, I did roll my eyes hard at the Jane Eyre trope for Edith & her editor. That one, more than any other "Dude. Seriously?" moment that JF has tossed out there, annoyed me. Poor Edith, she can't even catch an original storyline from the creator. lol

Stephanie Doyle said...

Smitten - I KNOW. And it all happened so fast. I would have liked at least a little more buid up than...

You look pretty.

Thank you.

I love you but I'm married to a crazy woman.

Okay. Still - I hope she takes the opportunity to at least get lucky. Edith deserves it.

Sinead M said...

I've only seen season 1, but was entirely absorbed by what I've seen and until you pointed it out, did not even notice the cliches.

I think because they're wrapped in English accents and some subtle acting, they don't hit you in the face, but so true. A little soap and miscarriage and of course the ex wife is a total lunatic.

Eileen said...

Oh, SmittenKitten, you made me snort out loud. Poor Edith indeed.

So here's another element for me. I didn't start watching until relatively recently and there was so much buzz about it, I wanted to swept away like everyone else. I wanted, for once, to ride that crest of popular sentiment.

Part of letting the cliches wash past me is my desire to do that. Does that make any sense?

smittenkittenorig said...

I hope she does as well. I want her to find happiness & love. I have my fingers crossed that Fellowes will have something great in store for Edith in Season 4. It's long overdue.

smittenkittenorig said...

I think it makes sense. Honestly, we didn't start the eyebrow raising in my house until some blatant Season 2 cliches appeared. The "swept away" feeling starts to wane just a little when the writing pushes contrivances over authenticities & doesn't even try to finesse it. Still, we watch obsessively! lol :)

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