Category: PBS

We Are Not Amused (Downton Spoilers)

I have always believed that writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing.  The first, of course, is ransom notes…”
– Philip Dusenberry

PBS is delightfully clever in so many ways, but clearly no one ever sat them down and explained ransom during the training for those interminable fund drives:  you don’t kill the hostages first and THEN ask for money, dears.


A Downton Game

First to blackout wins the inheritance – or would if it wasn’t entailed!  Pretty sure this could make a dangerous drinking game too, either tea or one of those newfangled cocktails the Dowager Countess is so baffled by.  (Courtesy of Marie)


The Smalldogs Go to Downton (Spoilers)

“Their pretensions are naked and vulnerable and for that reason, to me at least, rather charming.”
― Julian Fellowes, Snobs

Make this your mantra, and all will be well.
Make this your mantra, and all will be well.

Judging from social media, the entire fandom is just about ready to riot and tear Dark Lord Fellowes limb from limb, to which I say: really?  I love Downton Abbey with the deep affection of pretty costumes, good actors, and clever writing, but the truth is, it’s a soap opera.  A gorgeous, sumptuous soap opera in a marvelous setting with (usually) higher quality characters, but at this point I don’t think the soapiness can be denied.

Lest you think I’m being judgey and turning up my nose, never fear, I’m still sucking it down in gulps.  I just find it odd (and sometimes morbidly hilarious) that story arcs, once finished are seldom referred to again – and when they are resurrected, the effect is sort of stilted.  Lavinia’s father leaves Matthew a fortune, but Matthew is too guilt ridden to accept it.  Until he’s miraculously not anymore.  Ta da!  Problem solved.  Slightly more hilarious to me was Cora trying to ask Mary if she wanted any sex advice on her wedding day – lest we forget this wedding almost didn’t happen because she once took a lover.  In soap operas, characters go from one crisis to the next and somehow life goes on and past dealings are forgotten – despite the fact that the disfigured man may be your cousin, you lose the use of your legs, you do battle with your siblings, you get left at the altar, your fiance blackmails you, and papa’s just lost the family fortune.  Again.  The disfigured possible cousin will literally vanish never to be seen of more, all the doctors will be wrong and you will walk again, you’ll still do battle with your siblings because drama is as permanent in this world as death and taxes, you’ll go on to start a column (Dear Downton Abb[e]y?), the blackmailing fiance goes the way of the cousin, and money will present itself in an improbable way.

Which means, cynically, that as ticked as I am that my favorite character was killed off, I doubt it will make much difference in the show.  It’s formula is largely season contained crises with a cliffhanger at the end.  It’s a successful TV model, there’s a reason soaps ran for decades, but I wonder how long it’s sustainable.  Soaps are also dying, you may have noticed.  But as long as the writing’s good (and Maggie Smith’s involved), I’ll feed the addiction.

With that in mind, we bring you a play by play of tonight’s episode:

“Lord Grantham dislikes medical detail.”  No kidding.  With dire consequences.

O’Brien, you scheming cow.  Soapiness.

Thomas, keep your hands to yourself.

Ha!  The proof is, literally, in the pudding! Pastry will out!

Isobel meddles so cheekily.

I still can’t tell exactly what got up the nose of Bates cellmate and the gaoler, they seem to be evil for absolutely no reason.  Soapiness.

Being business like is being middle class – quelle horreur.

“I’ll get a baby out of you one way or another!”  Words I hope never to hear a doctor say to me.  Pompous ass.

Tom is truly a tame revolutionary now, an evening jacket at dinner?  For shame, bolshevik.

Matthew wants to talk about his gentlemanly area, doesn’t have the words.  Britishness.

Edith makes progress as a person, high five.  Immediately smacked down by Robert who knows better than everyone, especially women and peasants.  Snobbishness.

“Nobody could look at you and think that Mrs. Byrd.”  *Snicker

Another love triangle in the kitchen, Daisy gets uppity.  Soapiness.

“I hate to get news second hand.”  First Dowager quip of the night.

And downstairs, Mrs. Patmore lays down the law.  There’s only one queen bee in the kitchen, thank you very much.  Soapiness.

Everyone knows that men with titles give better medical advice, you silly plebe doctor.  Snobbishness.

Kidney souffle.  That sounds absolutely dreadful.

“Or the footmen!”  Carson the Butler, guardian of young boys’ virtue.  Britishness.

The Dowager Countess is not put off by bodily functions – one wonders how her son turned out so boneheaded.

“The decision lies with the chauffeur.”  This woman.  I want to be her.  Fabulousness.

“Isn’t a certainty stronger than a doubt?”  And there we have the trouble with this particular class system summed up in one sentence.

It’s a girl!

Thomas, hands off.  Soapiness.

Everyone’s happy.  Brace yourself, that always means Fellowes is about to do something evil.

…And here it is.

Sir Phillip is a useless ass.  Surprise.

Lavinia Swire gets a saintly death, the nicest character on the show dies horribly and much more realistically.  Yep.  About par for the course.  Soapiness.

“But this can’t be.”  Says the man who categorically refuses to look any sort of reality square in the face.

The baby cries – direct hit in the upper left quadrant of the torso.

“Is there anything we can do, Mr. Carson?”
“Carry on, Daisy.”  Britishness.

Thomas is crying – good grief the evil guy is human.

Oh good, someone’s mad at Robert!  We’re squarely on Team Cora here.

“Do you think we might get along a little better in the future?”
“I doubt it.”  Oh Lady Mary, never change!  Soapiness.

Matthew gets along with business, Mary shuts it down with a surprising amount of class given that she looks capable of ripping off her husbands face.  Delicious self-restraint. Britishness.

Will I be shot for saying that I’m beyond ready for the Bates in prison storyline to wrap up?

Evil guard and evil cellmate twirls their mustachios evilly.  Soapiness.

And Maggie Smith out-acts everyone by walking away from the camera slowly and suddenly looking old for the first time in the whole series.  Second punch in the chest.

Reason #498 Why I Love My Marriage

“I have witnessed and enjoyed the first act of everything which Wagner created, but the effect on me has always been so powerful that one act was quite sufficient; whenever I have witnessed two acts I have gone away physically exhausted; and whenever I have ventured an entire opera the result has been the next thing to suicide.”
– Mark Twain

PBS (my Great American Love) is in the middle of doing Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle on it’s Great Performances at the Met program, starting with an introductory program on the staging of Robert Lepage’s fantastical set for the Met’s production.  We’re loving it and staying up way too late to enjoy it.  And we would feel bad about listening to Wagner late at night except that our neighbors have been treating us to a  rather tone deaf rendition of Les Miserables for the better part of the week.   We’ll see your French suffering and raise you the fall of the German/Icelandic gods.

Of course, tonight is Die Walkure, so we had to prepare properly.  Naturally by watching this.

The Small Dog editorial team: mature, educated, cultured.

Dear Dear, I’ve Drunk the Kool Aid…

“You should never take anything I say seriously.”
– Lady Mary, Downton Abbey

I am a great admirer of Julian Fellowes.  My first exposure to him was his foppish portrayal of the Prince Regent in The Scarlet Pimpernel (which, incidentally, is required viewing for my children and will eventually make it to the list I’m sure).  I loved Gosford Park, and I swallowed his novel Snobs down whole.   His screenplay of The Importance of Being Earnest is common viewing at my parents house, and most people I know liked The Young Victoria.  I’m currently knee deep in his latest novel Past Imperfect with no signs of slowing.  And like most people, I enjoy Downton Abbey, his latest achievement.

Alright.  That’s not true.

I’m sucking down the outrageous drama in great, gasping gulps.  There.  Never say I lie to you, kittens.

One of the worst things about being separated from J. is that he gets to taunt me about all the programming I miss on this, the wrong side of the pond.  Not only did he get the entire series of Downton months ahead of me, he’s just finished up with the second series of Sherlock.  It’s going to affect our marriage soon, if we’re not careful, especially since J. is notoriously closed lipped about spoilers.  It’s very annoying.

Meanwhile, I’m hilariously worked up over the personal life choices of entirely fictional characters.

I mean really, come on!

Although, to be fair, the mark of any good work is whether or not you care about the characters or plot.  So I suppose that anything that makes me want to throw something at the television whenever someone does anything foolish must be good.  Or I’m just someone who hates dillydallying and wants Lady Sybil to run off with her hot Irish chauffeur already.  Either is possible.

And that, my dears, is how I spent my long weekend.  Let’s not judge one another.

To Arms, Citizens!

“You will still find more hours of in-depth news programming, investigative journalism and analysis on PBS than on any other outlet.”
– Gwen Ifill

Minions, I’m stepping away from my daily dose of snark, personal injury, and tales of life as an office gopher to incite you all to violence.  Or at least activism in the political process.  You know, whichever comes first.

Wait!  Come back!  This isn’t about abortion, gay marriage, immigration, or any of those screaming match inducing topics, all of which I myself have complex opinions about that – happily – I won’t inflict on you.  See?  It’s perfectly safe.

No, I want to talk about the upcoming debate in Congress on whether or not they are going to pull the plug on funding public broadcasting.  Which means NPR and PBS stations would not receive any federal funding whatsoever.  I’m sure we’ve all rolled our eyes at the inconvenience of having our programing interrupted by biannual membership drives, but let me tell you what, even those drives don’t fully fund public broadcasting stations.  My local PBS station is supported by federal funding by 25%, other stations need much more than that.  Without federal funding many of these stations will not be able to support themselves, and I don’t think losing them should be an option.

I can hear you asking why I’m jumping up on this particular soapbox.  Well, like I said, I’m not going to dump my political rantings on anyone (J. gets that delight), but I’m always going to fight tooth and nail for the humanities.  To say nothing of the other genres of fantastic programing that PBS and NPR offer.

President Obama recently bemoaned the lack of future scientists in the US (a report I listened to on NPR, incidentally).  I submit that more kids of my generation were inclined to the sciences thanks to Bill Nye the Science Guy than the average elementary school science teacher.  And what about programs like Nova and Nature for practical biology, geology, geography, and conservation – and photography and cinematography come to think of it!

My love for Masterpiece Classic, Mystery, and Contemporary are already well documented but just so we’re clear, Masterpiece has showcased the work of some of the greatest artists who ever lived, be they actors, playwrights, or novelists.  Often to viewers who would never have been exposed to these works otherwise.  I grew up in a house that loved the humanities and wasn’t short of opportunities to take advantage of them, but I saw my first opera, symphony performance, and ballet on PBS, and have many friends who have never seen these sorts of performances except on PBS due to lack of opportunity.

And as for children’s programing!  Hands up anyone who has never, in their entire life, seen an episode or even a video clip from Sesame Street?  Not many of you.  What about Mr. Rodgers NeighborhoodThe Magic SchoolbusReading Rainbow?  Programs that supplement early childhood education and engage developing cognitive skills and should not be thrown aside.

Now on to NPR which preserves the radio show tradition with A Prairie Home Companion and Selected Shorts, to say nothing of phenomenal journalism which provides a nice supplement to either CNN or FOX when you want to form a more thorough opinion.

I don’t think anyone denies that we need to find ways to trim the federal budget and that sacrifices will need to be made.  But I also believe there are dozens if not hundreds of other initiatives, earmarks, pet projects, and other all around badly spent monies that could be cut before funding to the National Endowment for the Arts!  Public broadcasting is not a great money maker, it doesn’t produce thousands of manufacturing jobs, it doesn’t impact our competition with China…

But it is important.

Please check your local PBS and NPR websites for contact information for your representatives in Congress, and make your voice heard.

Hello, Lover!

“Bestow thy flickering light forever.”
– Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

You haven’t heard from me much, piglets.  Shall I tell you why?  And shall we agree that you won’t judge me about it – at least not very much?

Well, as you may recall, J. and I canceled our cable.  Our cable company, being the dirty rotten sort that they are, was going to hike our monthly fee to over a hundred dollars!  Outrageous!  If you haven’t noticed, you can watch most shows online these days (completely legally, even!), so paying $100 for something you can get for free is ludicrous even by cable companies’ skewed logic.  We gleefully turned in our modem and bade adieu over a lunch break.

We were sheepishly astonished at how much free time we had after severing all ties.  Embarrassed really.  J. missed his sports channels, but he has several friends in the area to watch sports with at their houses (his own loving wife having still not quite learned to love ESPN).  The real blow for me was giving up PBS (love of my life).  However, using our TV just for movies was a good choice in a lot of ways, and I still had the internet to indulge in this Masterpiece Mystery – speaking of which, have you seen Sherlock yet?  No?!  Find it and watch it at once.

But then.  Then.

J. bought me a digital antenna for Christmas.  I now have not one but five PBS channels plus several others this magical little box sitting on our TV stand plucked out of the ether.  I like that guy so much.

And thus, I am as good as dead to the word.

Sigh. I have missed thee.

For My Future Spawn: Austen

“How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!”
– Jane Austen

However, I will agree, some Austen fans take it WAY too far.

J. and I were talking about Jane Austen a while back (he hates her) and he voiced a common male complaint about Pride and Prejudice, “Women like it just because they want to end up with Mr. Darcy.”
“I don’t think so,” was my response.   “I think smart women like it because they want to be like Elizabeth.”

And I stand by that.   Literary-ily speaking, she was one of the first admirable heroines in the relatively new form known as the novel.  Previously, women generally were getting carried off by brigands/lecherous squires, fainting at every available opportunity, and dealing with ghosts, vampires, and monks who sell themselves to the Devil.  Alternatively, she is intelligent, lively, has a sense of humor, has a strained relationship with her mother but is fiercely loyal to her family, has personality quirks, won’t marry a repulsive man just because he’ll inherit her house someday, and makes mistakes.  In other words, a fairly normal woman.

Suddenly, shoveling through the supernatural and sentimentality, along came Jane Austen who decided to write about the sphere she moved in, the concerns she and her peers dealt with from day to day, and to make the everyday interesting.  Austen is one of my favorite writers, not because of the romance, but because she is historically important.  And because of this skill in skewering the foibles of society and people with wit and sarcasm.

Now, not all Austen adaptations are created equal, and I should know.  Mum, Snickers, and I have spent many a Sunday afternoon enjoying them:

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice (A&E, 1996) is the definitive P&P version.  It’s basically the book in film form, which can hardly be said of most novel adaptations.  It’s certainly the top Austen film, in my opinion.  Lovely score, good costuming, and excellent acting.  J., when his protests against me watching it have been overcome, will grudgingly hunker down with his laptop on the sofa ignoring it, but will invariably make some kind of commentary, “Darcy’s awkward,” or more likely, “Wow.  Her mother needs a sock stuffed in her mouth.”  My only real complaint with this version is that Jane is not attractive in the slightest.  Rosamund Pike of the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice is a better beauty, although the only really good thing about that version is the music.  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”


I already know I’m going to catch it from Marie for this but Emma (A&E, 1997) with Kate Beckinsale is my favorite version.  She loves the Emma with Gwyenth Paltrwo, which I don’t at all.  And the latest Emma with Ramola Garai, though it got mixed reviews from the crazed Austenites (with whom I do not see eye to eye), I quite liked too.  In fact, this novel seems to be the most debated because main character is a bit spoiled, a busybody, and stupidly manipulative in only the way young girls who think they are more clever than they actually are can be.  But I like the character of Emma quite a lot.  All of Austen’s characters grow, but this is an instance of one of them growing up.  “Silly things do not cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way.”

Sense and Sensibility

Up until recently, I liked the 1995 Sense & Sensibility with the divine Emma Thompson, but the BBC recently did a version (which aired on my beloved PBS stateside) which I think a lot better.  The ages of the actresses were more appropriate and much of the novel which had been left out of the first adaptation was put back in, making the story a bit more as rich as it should have been.  And as much as I love Alan Rickman’s broodiness (in everything he’s ever done), I thought Col. Brandon seemed much more noble and likable, which he ought to be, instead of lurking in corners and sighing dramatically.  I don’t go much for the Byronic types.  They’re aggravating.  “She was stronger alone; and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as, with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be.”


Masterpiece Theatre’s version of Northanger Abbey is really fun.  It’s Austen’s lone almost purely satirical novel, mercilessly lampooning those Gothic monks and ghosts previously mentioned. Both this and this version of Persuasion are really very good so it’s a coin toss there.  And if I had to choose between this verision and this version of Mansfield park, I lean toward the latter, even though neither are very good.  Mostly because Fanny Price is the dullest of dull heroines and does next to nothing throughout the course of the book and the second film tried to make her likable.

And because, as with Shakespeare, the most annoying sorts of people are those who take things too seriously, I’m flat out ordering all of you to hop on over to the bookstore and buy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! Partly because it is uproariously funny, partly because even J. liked it.  Spoiler alert.  Darcy, on the occasion of his first, pompous proposal is rewarded for his pains with a roundhouse kick to the face.  Alas, Mrs. Bennett is little changed: her husband is trying to keep his daughters from the clutches of the undead…but she’s still trying to get them married.

And lest we forget…there is that hilarious “post-modern moment” in Lost in in Austen.

Viewers Like You. Thank You.

“So Amanda stays with Darcy and Elizabeth stays in the modern world?  Why does she want to do that?”
“Birth control, indoor plumbing, and women’s rights?”
– J. and C.

Whether against his will or not, J. is slowly getting dragged into my PBS obsession, and it’s been fun to watch.

Pictured: a post-modernist moment. You may close your mouth now.

For someone who dislikes Jane Austen pretty strongly, he liked Lost In Austen quite a bit (granted, we both loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).  He laughed just as loud as me when the main character asked Mr. Darcy to take a dip in his pond so she could enjoy a Colin Firth-esque “post-modernist moment.”  He found the fact that Caroline Bingley was a lesbian hilarious, liked that Wickham was a good guy after all, and that Jane and Charles run off to America together.  One Sunday night he called back to where I was in the office and reminded me that Masterpiece was on in a half hour and asked if there would be another LIA installment.

She heard you, J.. Beware.

And when Dorcas Lane (of Lark Rise to Candleford fame) stated she doesn’t like to judge people, to the face of the man she’s refused to marry for having a scandalous, mistress-mongering past, and said man snaps back, “You’ve never had a problem with sitting in judgement before.  Good-day,” … it was incredibly satisfying to hear my red-blooded, football/basketball loving, hamburger devouring, man’s man, all-American husband cry, “Oh no he didn’t!  Burn!”

I’m sure he’d like me to reciprocate by learning to love basketball and Sports Center, but I’m not quite there yet.  I’ll work on it.