How About No More 'Posh Porn' From the Brits for a While, Yes?
Enough "Downton Abbey," "Parade's End" and stiff upper lips. Let's take a break from British history -- a history we don't share -- and stay modern for a while.
Let's be clear here: You can like something but also not want any more of it for quite awhile. This is not a contradiction. It's just a reaction to excess.
And so it is with my newfound desire to not watch another British series that focuses on the woes of the aristocracy right around World War I when they couldn't express any emotions, worried about appearances and had a bunch of people downstairs who waited on them hand and foot.
This, I say, after writing that the recently concluded season three of Downton Abbey was a welcome return to form (with reservations about its future, mind you) and a very positive but conflicted review of the upcoming miniseries Parade's End on HBO. The similarity between the two is not helpful for my current desire to go modern when it comes to the Brits (who, it should be noted, often make really great television). After I wrote those two pieces, I was searching movies on Hulu when one of the suggestions came up Gosford Park.
OK, yeah, enough.
But the tipping point might have been Parade's End, a miniseries I believe will be far more interesting to the Brits than us, their low-rent cousins. It's a miniseries I reviewed favorably, remember, mostly because the performances of the lead actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall are marvelous. But the hitch in the series is that not a lot happens because Cumberbatch's character -- an aristocrat, go figure -- refuses to act out his real feelings in service of what's proper and what's perceived. I night have been at the point where I wanted to scream, "Oh for God's sake, just say what's on your mind, man!"
(If you've noticed the Brit-centric wording in some of these sentences and the question mark in the main headline, extra points for your Anglophile-loving heart. See, I love almost all things England. The accents -- particularly on the women. How they answer questions so often with another question. The English Premiere League. Decades of their music. Etc.)
But why do we Americans love these costume dramas so much? And yes, PBS, I'm looking at your fancy pimp clothes and scowling at you. This Yankee fascination with England's rich past (in both ways) makes little sense beyond some kind of wish fulfillment or kinky fantasy. The fact that millions of people watched the first two seasons of Downton Abbey while our economy was on the brink is even more fascinating (and yes, maybe that was part of the point -- money being the money shot in these dramas of the idle rich). And then we gobbled up season three at an even more feverish Nielsen pace.
After being troubled by why I liked and partly loathed Parade's End, I did a little reading from the British perspective and came across a quote in a column by Ben Dowell from the Guardian UK, who noted that a rival producer had told him, "I'm sick of this posh porn." Exactly! (I'm sure we're all Anglophile enough -- thanks a lot PBS! -- these days to know that "posh" in England means the very well-to-do.) In any case, yes, I'm sick of it, too. It's annoying, innit?
As much as we all love the witticisms of the Dowager Countess, the concerns of the upstairs/downstairs lot is getting a bit stale. How long can people stay proper? For God's sake, have some sex! (Just lie back and think of England!) How long can we watch TV shows that are worried about changing linens? How many times must we talk about jam? Or is it marmalade? The cars are too old. There are too many horses. There are way, way too many tea cups. Why are there not more people being shot?
Of course I'm being facetious. But I'm at the point where I'd much rather see Cumberbatch as Sherlock and I want to see Idris Elba as Luther. Hell, I loved The Hour, which sadly won't have a third season, and there was plenty of period-piece costume drama in that (but also drinking, sex, killing, etc.). And language that wasn't stiff. And real human emotions that weren't bottled up.
Let's continue to embrace British modernity -- series that are set in the present, or at least damned close to it. More Prime Suspect and Cracker-like grit. More currency for the hard times of the modern world. Those series still are being made; they will arrive here, and you must be directed to watch them (I will do my part to help, if the quality is there). Let us put the tea cups down. Let's turn away from the Lady Marys of the world. Let's end the parades, the charades and whatever it means to be proper. Let's embrace something that brings shame upon the house.
Let's get over this posh porn.
Oh, by the way, Mr. Selfridge is coming to PBS on March 31. Sigh.