Dispatch from the Downton Abbey Diaspora is written for THIRTEEN by Deborah Gilbert, a British television maven and editor of the E20 Chronicles, a free, weekly Eastenders e-newsletter, and an Eastenders column in the Union Jack Newspaper. Check back for updates.
Downton Week in New York City: Last week was like a Downton Abbey jungle safari here in NYC! The cast, here in the Colonies to promote Season 3, were everywhere. They were riding the subway, sitting courtside at a Knicks game, taking in The Heiress on Broadway, and escaping an appearance on The View without a scratch. It seems like the only thing they didn’t do was get the key to the city and ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange (note to PBS: put it on the list for next year!)
With the news of their arrival, I was hoping to run into them, and as it happened, I did. I had already seen The Heiress twice when it was in previews but had no plans to see it again. Then I saw Dan Stevens’ cryptic tweet, “Downton fans may have an extra treat @TheHeiressBway on Tuesday night…#justsaying” I wondered…what could that mean? I knew the cast was going to be in town but were they going to show up on stage at the post-show Q&A? I didn’t know. All I knew was that I wanted to be there to see it so I called my friend Fran (who is quite possibly as insane as I am) and off we went to see The Heiress for a third time. And boy did we luck out with seats – 50 yard line! (AKA sixth row center!) Perfection. And by the way, if you saw The Heiress in previews, do yourself a favor and go see it again. As the ensemble has had more time to work together, the performances have evolved and gotten richer. And I’m still not sure that Dan Stevens’ character, Morris, really was a fortune hunter. At least not purely. In any event, it’s a fun evening at the theatre.
But back to Downton; as we’re sitting in our seats waiting for the play to begin, I glanced around and who do I see coming down the aisle and sliding into his seat (five rows behind me) but Carson himself (Jim Carter)! I then looked farther across the row and who else was there but Elizabeth McGovern (Cora), Joanne Froggatt (Anna), Sophie McShera (Daisy), Rob James-Collier (Thomas) and Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham) – all sitting together in the one row! Right behind me! Sweet. No sign of Mr. Bates (turns out that Brendan Coyle had already returned to the UK – where is border security when you need it?) During intermission when everyone got up to walk around, people were casually chatting with them and they were all, from what I could see, lovely. Carson is taller than you’d expect. So is Elizabeth McGovern. Thomas is shorter that you’d expect and out of character, without his Thomas snarl on, he looks quite sweet. Joanne Froggatt (Anna) is a tiny little thing, and absolutely gorgeous. Hugh Bonneville looks exactly the same as Lord Grantham (I think he was even wearing tweed). It was fun to watch the audience of New Yorkers kind-of pretend to ignore them while maneuvering to be near them or catch sideways glances (as we were). Colin Farrell was in the audience as well but no one paid him any attention at all. It was all about Downton.
The Main Event: The following night was PBS’s Official New York Season 3 Preview at the Essex House, and all the gang from the night before were there (except Elizabeth McGovern). After screening a half hour preview of the first episode of Season 3, the cast came out onto the makeshift stage in the ballroom for a Q&A with the audience (which was streamed live on the internet. If you missed it, you can watch it here). It’s very obvious that they are a tight knit team, with great ease and chemistry with each other – which I suppose is a big reason why this ensemble show works as well as it does. After the Q&A PBS gave out copies of the new ‘Chronicles of Downton’ book and “FREE BATES” tshirts, and there was a little cocktail party with an unending supply of champagne and canapes while fans lined up to get autographs and pictures with the cast.
Channeling My Inner Edith: I’ll never be a Lady Mary. I just won’t. Few of us will. It’s a sad reality that, over time, I’ve had to come to accept. It is this geeky baggage that I travel with through life (with no footman to carry it). I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. So while I’ve long been aware that I’m not a Mary, it wasn’t until the screening party that I realized I just might be an Edith! Yes Edith, the karmic shlemazel.
First, I made kind-of an idiot out of myself asking my Q&A question (I was a bit stunned by the sound of my voice coming out of the speakers and jumped back – what a geek!) Later, as people were lining up to get autographs from the cast, I saw the producer and went over to ask him a question. I met him last year and he was very interesting to talk to. I’d been getting over a cold and while chatting suddenly I had a big coughing fit. He mentioned something about just reading about the Norovirus spreading in Europe and the women with him backed away with horrified looks on their faces. I tried to say I wasn’t contagious, though I could barely speak, and quickly excused myself and fled back to stand with someone I knew. Soon after, the autographs were over with and the crowd had thinned out and, nonplussed, I tried to nonchalantly stroll over, as ever so coolly as I can muster, to say hello to Hugh Bonneville and just as I did I promptly dropped my coat and scarf on the floor and fumbled to pick them up while attempting some sort of graceful exit. I blame this on watching too many Jerry Lewis movies as a child. Oh, and while all this was happening they closed down the table with the books and tshirts so I missed getting them. How will Bates ever get out of prison without my support? Oh, the humanity! Despite my existential trauma, this was a fun, fun event with a great vibe and everyone seemed to have a great time. PBS really knows how to throw a party! As for the preview of the first episode: It does NOT disappoint! It was FABULOUS! I don’t want to give away any spoilers. Well, maybe just one…
Hair today, gone tomorrow: So anyway, what was the big takeaway news from the Season 3 preview? O’Brien changed her hairdoo! The macaroni bangs are gone – replaced with small tufts of hair that actually make her look a bit like Dot Cotton. And who better for her to look like than the woman, the British telly institution, who coined the phrase, ‘You know me, I ain’t one to gossip!’
AC/DC: After the soiree in New York, the cast moved onto Washington, DC where they had the preview party at the British Ambassador’s residence (classy!) attended by lots of the capital’s movers and shakers – including Gwen Ifill. Turns out Ms. Ifill has a crush on Mr. Bates! It makes a lot of sense that someone who has to spend so much time around slimey politicians would crave the nobility of a Mr. Bates, though hard to imagine Ms. Ifill as the giggly sort – even though a while back she tweeted about meeting Brendan Coyle saying, ‘He was lovely. I kind of embarrassed myself.’ It sounds like our Gwen is a member of the Edith club as well! And look at her posing for a picture with the dishy Rob James-Collier at the DC party.
Sneaky Peeky: You can’t wait. You know you can’t. Might as well face it, you’re addicted to Downton Abbey and those minute-long snippets aren’t enough to feed your craving for Season 3. But if you can hold on a little longer, PBS is going to drop another veil: On December 26 they preview of the first ten minutes of Season 3 streamed live, right on their website. Here’s the link.
Bad Boys: One of the many fun things about Downton is how ripe it has been for parody. My favorite it still Downton Arbys, but there’s a new classic to add to the ever growing list. In an interview, while the cast was in LA, Hugh Bonneville joked that Downton Abbey was like Breaking Bad, but with tea instead of meth. That must have given the writers at the Colbert Report ideas because they came up with this, Breaking Bad as performed by the men of Downton Abbey.
You Can’t Catch This Gingerbread Man: Martha Stewart has got nothing on the clearly brilliant Curtis Jensen who has created a gingerbread house that looks suspiciously like a certain Yorkshire country house we all know and love. And not only did he build the gingerbread Downton Abbey, but he also made a time lapse video of himself building it and posted it on YouTube. You’ve got to see this: Downton Abbey and carbs: A match made in heaven!