I made a terrible mistake many years back. I was still talking to “intellectuals” as if they were normal, intelligent persons, instead of addressing them in the manner a French waiter reserves for people on vacation from Omaha. My error was based on a serious misapprehension, one that I was quickly disabused of. In a public forum, I mentioned that I thought Seinfeld was an entirely new and innovative kind of situation comedy, because it was the first time I could recall where every single person that appeared in a comedy show was completely, utterly, and without exception, unlikeable.
It’s important to stress that I didn’t mean, and certainly didn’t say, that I didn’t care for the characters as drawn. I don’t care for lots of characters portrayed on television. You’re not supposed to like some, anyway — they’re villains — and the rest can advance a story without draping a daisy chain around your heart. That’s neither here nor there. I pointed out that no one could like anyone on Seinfeld. It just wasn’t possible. In real life, you’d punch every man-jack in that show –star or stand-in alike — square in the esophagus without warning if no one was looking. Even the elderly women. Did I say even? Well, it’s in the dictionary near especially, and perhaps I got confused.
The scorn that rained down on my head was well-deserved, of course, and shame on me. If you can operate a Pell grant application, but not an apostrophe, everyone on Seinfeld is wonderful. You wish they were your friends. You want to dress like Elaine, and get soup with George. You want to live a life about nothing — and vicariously, at that.
No, you won’t catch me making that mistake again. I refuse to stand here, agog, while you tell me that you find anyone or anything commendable about Downton Abbey.
It’s a big hit, I hear, like Jersey Shore within shouting distance of the actual Jersey, not the ersatz one. I have seen it. I began to play interesting games with it after a while, like a bored teenager at the pool seeing how long he can hold his breath underwater. Who knew you could listen to seventeen straight hours of dialog in a teleplay and not hear one interesting thing emitted from any sentient being onscreen? It’s true; I counted. I feared that the cute doggie tuchus that opens the credits would disgorge some methane and liven things up, and so ruin my streak, but it was not to be. It’s turtles all the way down, and the turtles are upside down in the terrarium and they’ve turned white.
It is innovative, of course, if you think renting a British dustcatching country house and filming Falcon Crest in it is innovative. It achieves the vaunted Seinfeld “show about nothing” level of studied indolence by the back door; it’s a show about everyone being everybody and doing everything all at once, and over and over again, too. There’s a kind of sublime quality to a teleplay with the nerve to simultaneously posit that it’s serious, and also that there’s a character in it that was going to be an Earl but he was on the Titanic and didn’t drown like a human would but caught amnesia from the cold water or something and thought he was Canadian, which is the same thing as amnesia, I think, and then he got roasted in World War I and remembered he was an Earl, but lost interest in that after a week, and drifted off. I’m surprised the writers didn’t have him kidnapped by aliens and anally probed while he was at it, or have him emit spider webs from his wrists or something else more believable and compelling.
Unable to make people interesting by making them say or do interesting things, the writers try to make some people interesting by making them evil instead, as bad writers do, but they don’t seem to understand evil properly and make a hash of that, too. The misbehaviors are of the quotidian variety, like a child standing next to a broken vase and averring that an eagle swooped down and did it, and asking if they might have a cookie anyway. But academics are the prospective audience, I guess, and they’re used to vicious fights over vanishingly small stakes, so apparently all you have to do is have the dastards tell tales out of school and smoke cigarettes, and they’re instantly Morgan La Fay and Richard the Third, squared.
I gather the gimpy valet is supposed to be the Christ-figure in it. He’s as tedious as a crown of thorns, anyway, so that’s the conclusion I drew. Sanctimony is in the dictionary not too far from stoicism, after all, and le mot juste is not the modern intellectual’s strong suit. After a few hundred thousand examples of his inane selfless behaviour, one’s natural urge is to front anyone up to the task the thirty pieces of silver necessary to get him to lighten up a bit. But examples of ignoble nobility are as numerous as the names in a Chinese phonebook in this dreadful thing, so perhaps I’m wrong to single out anyone for calumny. They shouldn’t hang separately. They should all hang together.
I just don’t know how to approach Downton Abbey. It’s a huge crime against my innate Anglophilia. I mean, Bertie Wooster and Jeeves are going to show up in Downton’s lobby shortly, and I’d hate to have them turned away because of the goings on there in the teens, but I really don’t know how to fix my mood without some sort of purge, a cleansing of the landscape, a Downton delenda est moment. I took a flurry on the World War; hoped for great things from the Spanish Flu; was disappointed that the producers seem to have found the only Irishman that ever lived with absolutely zero charm and no knowledge of how to mix up explosives in their landlady’s bathtub, and no urge to use them, either. There doesn’t seem to be anything left for me to hope for, because I can’t wait around long enough for the Four Weddings and A Funeral playbook to play out, and the funeral in those things never seems to have the mass grave I require in it, so I’m bound to be disappointed.
If the scriptwriters are reading, could you please dismantle Highclere manor, and build an enormous volcano-shaped pyre with its parts and pieces and denizens, and then set it alight? Thanks in advance.
Throw Laura Linney in it, when it gets going good, to appease the gods of ennui.