As married couples go, John and I are pretty well matched, but there are a few instances where we orbit different planets. I’m a Mac, for example; he’s a PC. He prefers Diet Coke; I like Diet Pepsi. I drink coffee; he drinks tea. But I love him and he loves me and we both love Downton Abbey. (And that’s quite enough rhyming for one blog post.)
For those not familiar with the Downton phenomenon, it is an hour-long British period drama broadcast on PBS’ estimable Masterpiece Classics series. Why do we love it so? Let me count a few of the ways: There are the carefully drawn, complex characters—many of whom we love to love and a few we love to hate. There’s the scalpel sharp writing—where wit, humor, and humanity emerge effortlessly from the situations at hand. (Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess gets many of the best lines, but Mrs. Patmore—the dowager of the downstairs kitchen—won my heart when she tossed a crêpes suzette, longed for by an uppity new housemaid, to the estate’s dog). There are the high production values, the elegant Edwardian couture, and the page-turning plot developments. Downton Abbey, which has won a host of awards, is the 21st-century’s answer to another beloved PBS Masterpiece production—Upstairs, Downstairs, which I can remember watching in the 1970s. If you want to know more, you can read a synopsis on PBS’ Masterpiece website.
And so it is that on Sundays at 9, our television set is tuned to PBS. Sandy, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, watches the program with us, although she would like to state, formally and for the record, that there are far too few scenes featuring Lord Grantham’s dog Isis.
In a plot development as disruptive as the evil Vera Bates, the network executives at PBS have somehow managed to schedule this wildly popular cult hit at the same time that ABC is broadcasting the Super Bowl.
Don’t talk to me about DVRs. Don’t suggest that John watch his beloved New York Giants battle the New England Patriots on a live Internet stream. That’s like asking me to wait to watch Downton the next day online (which, admittedly, I’ll probably do). But blimey—it’s just not the same. Remember, John and I came of age at a time where there were only three networks—five if you count one’s local PBS station and a network affiliate’s weak sister station on UHF. (And you could get those only if you had a round antenna attached to the back of your set.)
No, we’re old school enough, and watch television infrequently enough (we’ve only one set), that we like to catch programs when they actually air. We like the immediacy of it. And so this is why we have agreed to strike a compromise with respect to Downton Abbey.
You might recall that the subject of compromise was addressed quite well during my interview with author Wendy Swallow. “The Great Downton Compromise” is our way of putting our love to the test. John has already made his sacrifice; now it’s my turn.
On January 22, John’s team played the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC championship while Downton Abbey aired on PBS. John insisted on watching Downton with me; I had thought of experiencing the program vicariously through the weekly live Twitter party at #DowntonPBS, but no. John wanted us to watch the program together. (It’s true that he had already watched the Patriots beat the Ravens in the preceding televised game, so he wasn’t exactly football-deprived. But the Giants are his team. He grew up ten minutes outside of New Yawk City. I appreciated the gesture.)
As luck would have it, the game was still going on when Downton concluded, so he was able to watch his team take the NFC championship. In an outcome that would have made O. Henry proud, we both won that evening. But this Sunday, it’s my turn to make the grand gesture. Friends have invited us to watch the big game, and I’ll be trying my hand at making Buffalo Chicken Wings. That night’s episode of Downton Abbey will take place with one less viewer.
Why? Because I love my husband and I want to put his happiness ahead of mine—the way that he put his happiness ahead of mine the other day. It’s what married people do. Are you listening, Vera Bates?
Note to Downton fans: Please keep your tweets at #DowntonPBS as specific as possible—I’ll check in on the feed during halftime. (@PattonOswalt, just keep being funny.)