What could a group of reticent British aristocrats teach their American cousins, wearied by hours of crude television shows, about love and romance?
Plenty, it seems.
Two hours after the premiere of PBS’ period drama soap “Downton Abbey” on Sunday, January 6, the usually cynical Rolling Stone pop culture writer Sean T. Collins gushed. A fan of David Bowie, aliens, raunchy comics, and indie music, Collins retells the sweetest scene from the episode.
The priggishly pious Matthew Crawley stands outside bedroom door to apologize to his fiancée, Lady Mary (it was, after all, the night before their Royals-style, 1920 wedding—no peeking). Chivied by hunky Irishman Branson, the chivalrous Brit attempts to smooth over an earlier row. Professing his love (“I would never be happy with anyone else as long as you walked the earth…”), her sometimes-icy demeanor melts. He asks, in a scene almost out of Shakespeare, for a closed-eyed kiss.
Who could resist that?
Collins writes, word for fan-boy word, “Finally, the strings swell, Mary tentatively finds Matthew’s smiling face with her fingers, and they kiss. *Swoooooooon.* I melted, I’m telling you, melted. I felt like society tells us that girls feel about these things… It was the most romantic kiss I’ve ever seen on screen. I never wanted it to end.”
Amen, my friend: What this moment tells me, as a 20-something unfortunately dealt HBO’s “Girls” in place of “*swoooooooon,*” is that entertainment may just yet be turning a corner. Jaded as we are, Americans of all ages—especially Millennials—are yearning for something tangible; that is, television relationships with heart and feeling and respect. It is the result of what Collins called “sheer dogged workmanship” by “Downton” writer and creator Julian Fellowes.
The proof is in the pudding. A total of 7.9 million cross-generational Anglophiles tuned into the Matthew/Mary fight-kiss-wedding episode, a figure nearly quadruple the average of PBS’ prime-time ratings.
My male and female cohorts doubly watched and tweeted:
Writes @prodigalsam, “Just cried more at Matthew & Mary’s wedding than I did at my own. #downtonabbey.”
@IonaRevolver: “1920s Downton! Let the hems rise and the hair be bobbed! #ladymary’s wedding gown was heaven. Finally that romance is settled #downtonabbey.”
@pcooks: “*Sigh* #matthewandmary #downtonabbey.”
@MicallefJason: “Is how I feel about Downton Abbey returning how bros feel about Batman? Because I finally get you, bros! #WeAreAllOne #ladymary.”
@EmmaCatherineW: “Brb, sobbing about Mary’s eyebrows and wedding ensemble and headband and amazing husband #ladymary #downtonabbey.”
Me too, @Emma. Me, too.
Perhaps, after it’s through exploiting vulnerable people for sport (such as “Honey Boo Boo” and Shain Gandee from the MTV production, “Buckwild”), Hollywood will come to realize that we are, on the whole, a softer bunch—happily willing to carve out a slice of Sunday to watch manners, droll humor, and romance play out in noble England. Or, at the very least, understand the monetary benefit of providing classy programming versus offensive trash.
We are not, as Thomas Hobbes drearily prophesized, nasty, brutish and short in our devices but, in fact, interested in things completely square. Long-lasting and loved programs like “The Tonight Show,” “I Love Lucy,” and, dang it, “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” instead show an affinity for basic values, despite recent claims that “nihilism and hopelessness have drenched the culture completely.”
The numbers speak themselves: To the chagrin of its slobbering cheerleaders, for its premiere this past week “Girls,” starring foul-mouthed Lena Dunham, reeled in a wee 866,000 viewers (seriously, how is a guy peeing on his girlfriend in the shower hilarious?).
Pass the scones, please.