Is America falling out of love with Downton Abbey?

Reviewers across the pond are left disappointed by the lack of change as the hit ITV period drama returns to PBS Masterpiece for series five

Us Brits might have consumed eight whole hours of Downton Abbey’s series five dramas – as well as a bumper festive instalment as we lay stuffed full of turkey, mince pies and mulled wine – but over in America the fun is only just beginning. 

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The first episode of Downton Abbey’s fifth run premiered for our American cousins last night on PBS. The internet is already awash with reviews from Crawley devotees. And on the surface they seem as eager to please as poor old Tony Gillingham.  

“The show’s glittering surface is more entertaining than ever,” gushes IndieWire. “Lady Mary’s exquisitely designed 1920’s clothes are enough to guarantee some glamour. But the changes go far beyond sheath dresses and bobbed hair.” 

“Fires are blazing! Plots are moving!” enthuse The Daily Beast.

But then their review takes a decidedly more negative turn – “The progress is with a grain of salt, though. The plot development is back, but it’s more obtuse than ever” – and it’s a tone which matches most reactions to ITV’s super-popular export.

Across the pond, frustrations over Downton’s slow pace and lack of actual change (while repeatedly stating that everything is in fact changing) are starting to irritate. It seems not everyone is as enamoured with Cora Crawley and co as they used to be… 

“The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same in Downton,” said Hollywood Life

“This first episode of the fifth season is a lot like spending forced bonding time with relatives,” added Vulture‘s reviewer Jen Chaney. “Pretty much everyone is still talking about the same old s*** they were talking about exactly one year ago.”

“You’re going to watch this entire season no matter what, for the same reason you sent holiday cards to your cousins,” she adds, “because you always do those things, and you no longer know how not to do them.” 

New York Times asks the important question: “If the times really were a-changing, would we go on loving “Downton” as we do, through all its longueurs and contrivances and disquisitions on pig stewardship?” 

But goes on to add that “a little disorder” would be welcomed, bolding claiming that ITV’s recent Downton Abbey spoof for festive fundraiser Text Santa was actually the “most entertaining” instalment of late. 

“Our gang at Downton appears to be content to commemorate the past by repeating it over and over again. I understand that comparatively little time has passed between the season four Christmas special and this premiere, but it’s a bit dismaying how many old threads have been picked up, whether we’re terribly interested in them or not,” said The Atlantic‘s band of less-than-impressed reviewers adding: “Why won’t the coming tides of change just come already?”

They even went as far as to brand the episode “dullsville” (We know, how dreadfully American) but noted there was one redeeming feature: “There is a bright spot here: The elder ladies of the estate kill it this episode.” We have to agree. Lovely Isobel and brilliant Violet are our faves nowadays too. 

Over at the Wall Street Journal, US critics were no happier about the Crawley’s return: “Some of the plotlines are just tiresome already – and we’re only in the season premiere!”

And the old question of ageing rose it’s wrinkle-free face again: “Also, how much longer can this series go on before we all start wondering if the characters who haven’t died are actually vampires? Whatever Edwardian-era anti-aging cream Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham is using, I want it.” 

Meanwhile the Washington Post were pondering series five’s “few new tantalizing plots” as well as those which have been hanging around for a while… 

“Bates did manage to manufacture the look of a vengeful killer during his brief conversation with Lord Gillingham. Did he kill his valet? I hope we don’t have to wait all season to find out,” they naively state. If only they knew, eh?

Oh, and the dog discussion has found itself a whole new lease of life. 

“I forgot the dog’s name is Isis. Can’t believe they didn’t change that or leave it out altogether,” adds the reviewer.

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Cripes. Not this again…