When Downton Abbey first aired in America its instant popularity was part surprise, part joke. The supposedly niche British drama has now made Masterpiece Classic not only mainstream (4.2 million viewers tuned in for the Season 2 premier), but trendy – even for the minimally geriatric among us.
And really what’s not to love? For one, the jaw-dropping set is a real-life British castle that is open for public visitation. The beautiful 1000-acre estate, Highclere Castle, has even put up the likes of Queen Elizabeth for a night. We don’t think Lady Violet would turn up her nose at that!
But what’s most shocking is the £1 million per episode show has created a cultural phenomenon in which phrases like “bully for you” or “luncheon is served m’lord” actually begin to sound cool. Or worse, normal.
It seems there is no aspect of life that has escaped the trend. In addition to the adoption of ol’English slang, the turn-of-the-century costuming has recently inspired runway designers to re-invent WWI fashion for present-day enthusiasts. Series loyalists have no qualms about dressing up for a Sunday night viewing party and broadcasting their thoughts about that evening’s wardrobe via social media (the Facebook page has over 400,000 likes).
But perhaps the series is so popular in America because it allows mature, intelligent women to indulge their childhood fantasies in a socially acceptable way. Let’s face it: Downton Abbey is basically American girl dolls for grown-ups. What other reason explains the popularity of Vulture’s printable Paper Doll characters or why thousands have paid $12 for the series’ soundtrack which consists of a dozen very similar versions of the suite.
The show makes all of us feel classier, cultured and definitely more British. But what makes this phenomenon unlike any other is the way those of us in America have embraced it and made it our own.
That’s right – “Shit the Dowager Countess Says” is on YouTube. Now that’s an American stamp of approval if I’ve ever seen one.