“Downton Abbey”: Best Show Of 2011

Did you watch the first episode of “Downton Abbey” last night on PBS? If not, you deserve to be the target of one of the withering put-downs that Maggie Smith, who plays the Dowager on this English-country-house program, delivers peerlessly. Writer Julian Fellowes takes the universal themes of love, betrayal, domestic politics and the vagaries of power that he used so effectively in “Gosford Park” and hangs them on a crumbling precipice of change. As with ” Mad Men,” the characters in “Downton Abbey” face the tail-end of an era; women’s suffrage, the rise of socialism, and the imperturbable march of technology all threaten to upend the system of class and manners that protected and calcified Downton and its inhabitants for years. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of sex and secrets, romance and treachery to go ’round, not to mention the “that will be all, O’Brien” and “yes, mum” dialogue that masks the so often wretched and lonely hearts of British aristocrats.

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