My friend Joe Donatelli and I got into a minor major Twitter spat feud today over the existence of any similarities between Downton Abbey and Friday Night Lights because we are HUGE DORKS intelligent, passionate people, who enjoy clever repartee and seasoned rhetoric. He keeps recommending Friday Night Lights like it’s practically the same show as Downton Abbey and even went so far as to write a ridiculous post about it. Are they similar? Yes. So is every drama that isn’t on the CW (although I have a feeling Gossip Girl probably comes pretty close). That doesn’t mean you should tell people to watch Downton Abbey just because they like Friday Night Lights. They aren’t that similar. To prove my case, here is why Downton Abbey is similar to Battlestar Galactica. (You should read his article first)
1. The central unifying theme of both shows is integrity. I know many shows aim for this goal, but both Battlestar Galactica and Downton Abbey succeed, and are among the many shows that have, which I guess earns them the right to be compared. Like almost every show ever made, both shows are about right and wrong. Overlook the fact that they are set 150,000 years apart in different parts of the galaxy. The main characters from both shows follow—or don’t follow—a moral code and they suffer or reap the consequences as a result. And when I say “follow—or don’t follow” I’m pretty much negating that entire sentence. So I guess you can ignore it. I’m either breathing—or I’m not breathing—air. Also, please note the use of the mighty em dash in my sentence and not the lowly en dash.
2. Realism and romanticism. Battlestar Galactica and Downton Abbey offer characters that show both how people really do act and how they should. This is why the characters on both shows are beloved. On another show about power and morals, West Wing, you had characters who acted like Aaron Sorkin wished people would act, but seldom realistically. On The Wire you had people acting like journalist David Simon really thinks they act, which is seldom romantic. But on these two shows, some characters act as people should act and some act as people really do and how this affects their relationships makes for great stories. Funny, I could probably write another 2 articles saying THOSE shows are really similar to Downton Abbey. Hm.
3. Strong, older female lead. I would like to go out for margaritas with Cora, Countess of Grantham and President Laura Roslin sometime.
4. Strong, older male lead. I would also like to have a scotch with Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham and Admiral William Adama.
5. All local life revolves around one really freaking (frakking?) important building (a spaceship’s a building). Downton Abbey and Battlestar Galactica.
6. Many characters fighting for access to opportunity. For example: Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace and Gwen Dawson.
7. Neither show is over-written. There are many “small” moments and scenes with unspoken dialogue.
8. Viewers actually care about the characters. Neither is a ratings monster, but both are beloved because of their excellent characters.
9. A strong-willed oldest daughter who is often inexplicably stupid and naive. Starbuck (for all intents and purposes the daughter Adama never had) and Lady Mary, both of whom would break some hearts and probably get arrested if they went on spring break together. Both of whom probably smell awful.
10. Each show has a character who has a handicap. Colonel Saul Tigh (eyeball)/Felix Gaeta (missing leg) and Mister Bates.
11. The fleet of the 12 Colonies and 1916 England are both conservative at a time when the rest of the galaxy is changing. Lots of pride in England and the 12 Colonies, a feeling of being on top (or in space), and lots of reluctance to see things change. Or find Earth.
12. Both shows were created by actors. Glen A Larson (HE WAS IN GIDGET!) and Julian Fellowes.
13. War figures prominently into the lives of characters. WWI and the Second Cylon War.
14. Both shows revolve around dynastic heirs. To the Crawley fortune and to the command of the Galactica (Commander Bill Adam and Galactica CAG Lee “Apollo” Adama, and let’s not forget legal eagle grandfather Joseph Adama or militant rebel fighter great grandfather William Adama Sr).
15. Both shows feature strong marriages. The Crawleys and uh, hey, how about that sexual tension between Adama and President Roslin, huh?
Hey Joe, how m’nuts taste? I can keep going too.
16. Both shows were diamonds on total crap channels. PBS? Ew. Why are low budget pledge drives preferable to Nike commercials? And have you seen the shit that Sci-fi—excuse me—Syfy produces? How did these two awful outlets manage to make something almost popular?
17. Both shows start with a horrible large-scale tragedy. The Titanic. The surprise Cylon attack.
18. Both shows feature closeted homosexual relationships. Thomas the asshole footman and Felix Gaeta the asshole helmsman.
19. Both shows have two-word titles. Do you really need me to prove this?
20. Both shows feature cold, calculated individuals who end up having human emotion and flaws. Downton has the elder Crowleys and Charles Carson. Battlestar has actual robots.
20. Both shows consistently feature gleaming metal. Downton servants are either carrying or polishing large silver serving dishes or candelabras in pretty much every scene. Again, Battlestar, robots.
Joe, all good dramas feature characters with integrity fighting to do what’s right and succeeding because they don’t compromise. All good dramas feature callow, selfish people acting horribly and ultimately suffering the consequences. Quit telling people that Downton Abbey is like Friday Night Lights or they’ll wonder why Downton doesn’t get split in half in the third season with Robert Crawley being forced to be the manor of some other Abbey.
Note: I’ve only seen two episodes of Downton Abbey. For all I know the servants and family members team up and win the state football championship at the end of season 1, in which case, Joe, you were right. And don’t you dare pull-quote that last half sentence.