Hey! Aspiring film school drones! Would you like to win a Golden Globe award? It’s within your reach, as long as you can write dreary scenes like these, from the PBS hit show “Downton Abbey’’:
BATES, the basset hound of British valets, to his on-again, off-again girlfriend: “I don’t know if I’ve dreaded this moment or longed for it.’’
The possibly virginal ANNA: “Well, either way, it’s happened.’’
Wait, it gets worse.
ANNA: “If you want me to throw up everything and come - yes, I will, gladly.’’
BATES, pawing through his dog-eared copy of Blackstone’s “Commentaries’’: “I can’t marry you yet, legally. And I won’t break the law.’’
Ambulatory eyebrow cultivar LADY MARY CRAWLEY: “Do you remember when Lady Rosamund found you and Richard Carlisle together in the garden?’’
The possibly virginal LAVINIA SWIRE: “I thought I’d hear more about this.’’
CRAWLEY: “She thought he was threatening you and now she’s decided that you were behind the Marconi scandal in 1912 . . .’’
SWIRE: “I remember the Marconi scandal.’’
CRAWLEY: “No, let’s forget it. . . .’’
SWIRE: “But Lady Rosamund is right, I did start the Marconi scandal.’’
Oh, do tell.
She does tell, and tell, and tell. Those are verbatim quotes - Bates was not fingering a copy of Blackstone, forgive me - from the broadcast event of the moment, season two of PBS’s seven-part miniseries, “Downton Abbey.’’ It’s airing here on WGBH, on Sundays until Feb. 19.
By any metric, “Downton’’ has hit a home run. Nationally, it has more than doubled PBS’s prime-time audience. Locally, “Downton’’ is enjoying a 5.8 rating, twice as high as “Masterpiece Classic’’ ratings last year. It is too early to know if that translates into increased memberships or pledge commitments for WGBH.
So public television has momentarily expanded its audience beyond its core fan base of superannuated, upper-class twits - thanks to a superannuated, upper-class twit. Sir Julian Fellowes , who created “Downton,’’ is a life peer in Britain’s House of Lords, lives in a grand manor house in Dorset, and is married to a royal lady-in-waiting. Their son is the Honorable Peregrine Charles Morant Kitchener-Fellowes, to which one can only say: Pip! Pip!
Inevitably, Fellowes has been accused of favoring the aristocracy in “Downton,’’ and he does. Many of the British upper class’s uglier traits - its antipathy toward children, and its bred-in-the-bone anti-Semitism, to name just two - are kept well out of sight, like unpolished silver. But what the heck, it’s television.
Just as Lee Siegel accused the creators of “Sex and the City’’ of disliking women, I think Fellowes dislikes men. (For the record, I don’t like men, either.) “Downton’’ is powered almost exclusively by women. Things happen to men - they die in the Titanic disaster, they get blown to bits in the war - but the show’s plot advances on the generally bare and generally sturdy shoulders of its women. The lord of the manor, the ineffectual Earl of Grantham, parades around the set like an impotent peacock, dressed in a British Army uniform that will never be sullied by mud or mustard gas.
While a generation of his countrymen perishes in the trenches, the earl frets that convalescing officers might discomfit his pet Labrador, Isis. Fellowes sneaks in a brief, grim joke this season, as the earl entertains Sir Herbert Strutt, identified as the “hero of the Somme.’’ Strutt seems to be modeled on Field Marshal Douglas Haig, better known as the Butcher of the Somme, where the British suffered 400,000 casualties for no apparent reason.
I loved the first season of “Downton,’’ with its obsessive attention to the “law of the entail,’’ which forbad the earl’s daughters from inheriting their father’s magnificent property. Season two has a phoned-in quality; miracles occur where skillful writing might have intervened, subplots wax and wane randomly. But I am an originalist snob. I’m one of those people who can’t understand why anyone would watch NBC’s “The Office,’’ a show stolen character for character for character and situation for situation from Ricky Gervais’s much funnier British show. But what the heck, it’s television.
Wait! Our Bad Writing seminar isn’t over. Savor this:
The cetacean ROBERT, EARL OF GRANTHAM lowers himself into bed with his moneybags American wife, LADY CORA CRAWLEY.
LADY CORA natters on about their daughter’s doomed romance, but ROBERT is thinking Important Thoughts. “We’ve dreamed a dream, my dear, but now it is over. The world was in a dream before the war but now it’s woken up and said goodbye to it. And so must we.’’
Sweetheart, get me rewrite. And wake me when it’s over.