I know I am several years late to this party, but I’ve only recently discovered Downton Abbey. I had no idea of its power, otherwise I never would have approached the event horizon of its attention-absorbing black hole. As it is, my wife and I are irreversibly sucked in. We shall be spat out only when we run out of episodes on Amazon Prime or the brilliant BBC wonks stop producing it. Curse those amazing Brits and their fantastic casting, self-loathing rapier wit, and unimpeachable writing!
But it got me wondering: what would Downton Abbey have been like if it had been produced by Americans, for American TV? I’m pretty sure the following list sums it up.
10. Bates murders Thomas in the first season, accompanied by a pithy one-liner (“somebody’s going DOWN in Downton…”). He then develops a taste for vigilantism and goes to London in search of Jack the Ripper.
“… and after that, it’s that Carmen San Diego broad…”
9. Lady Edith is slowly transformed into the unpredictable Kramer-esque breakout character with an over-used, buzz-worthy catchphrase: “Mary! Kiss my kippers!” [laugh track]
“I received a letter today from cousin Urkel…”
8. Sarah O’Brien is revealed to be distantly related to Nelly Olsen from “Little House on the Prairie”. There is a crossover episode.
7. Dabney Coleman plays “OverLord Grantham”, a vicious, abusive industrialist making gilded-age wealth on the backs of child labor and gleeful pollution. His nemesis is an inexplicable environmental rights solicitor played by Kate Winslet.
“Carson, when will the orphans be served? For dinner?” [evil cackle]
6. They have a torrid love/hate affair in the third season.
“Slightly better than floating on a headboard in the Atlantic.”
5. Matthew Crawley uses the family fortune to build “Titanic Too, the Sequel”. He accompanies it on its maiden voyage and is shipwrecked on an Island. There, he builds a weird hatch and a button with a timer attached to it. He has a polar bear for some reason.
[sniff] “Smells like new money.”
4. Carson the Butler spends his free time solving murders in nearby villages with the help of his sidekick, a cockney street urchin played by Jaden Smith. During season four, they briefly leave Downton Abbey to attempt their own spin-off series called “Carson and the Kid”.
“Pray, inform the constable that we have located Lord Mustard’s candlestick. It was in the Library.”
3. The entirety of season five is a self-contained story arc in which aliens invade Downton intent on abducting Lady Mary as their queen. Her parents are ecstatic about this plan, but Mary screws it up somehow by being horrible. Aunt Rosamund is revealed to be a giant praying mantis wearing a human suit. The aliens wipe everyone’s memories and leave, thus nullifying the entire season.
“Those aren’t feathers. They’re my antennae.”
2. In season six, Daisy the scullery maid witnesses the Dowager Countess using a magic wand to turn a teacup into a frog. She doesn’t tell anyone, but suddenly starts wearing a burgundy-and-gold knitted scarf and calling the family “My Muggle Lord and lady”. The Countess pays for Daisy’s silence with Leprechaun gold.
“Have the chauffeur drop her off in Knockturn Alley.”
1. In the final season, the entire family moves to Dallas, Texas and gets into the oil business. Cora miraculously gets pregnant with a son, whom they name “John Ross”. Downstairs, everyone starts calling him “J. R.”.
[sniff] “Smells like old money.”
Rock and Water had a complex relationship from the start…
Water spent most of her time running along streams and rivers, tossing waves around her oceans, occasionally getting into hurricane rages about this or that, and often pouring herself out as life-giving rain over the land.
Rock spent most of his time sitting perfectly still and doing not much of anything except being heavy and hard, thereby providing the backbone for everything from mountains to molehills, from garages to castles.
Rock and Water couldn’t be any more different, and yet they both tended to respect each other, being equal parts of the world, and being equally necessary and worthwhile, albeit in extremely different ways.
Of course, unsurprisingly, sometimes their mutual respect turned sour. Sometimes Water got into Rock’s cracks and froze and broke him apart. “I spent two hundred million years getting into that shape!” he would exclaim.
And sometimes Rock was made into a dam that blocked the flow of Water’s rivers. “Just because you’re happy to lie around all day, do you have to stop me from moving!?” she’d shout at him. “Just look at my tributaries! They’re getting all fat!”
And sometimes there were deep jealousies between them.
One day, while Rock was contenting himself as a giant boulder on a hill, he watched how Water cascaded wildly down a nearby cliff-face, crashing into a deep pool below and roaring with laughter all the way.
He mustered every ounce of his complicated stony geology and melted himself into lava, committed to joining Water. Hissing and burning everything in sight, he delighted in his molten form, convinced that Water would be impressed at just how liquidy he could be.
Unfortunately, as soon as he joined Water on the cliff-face, she erupted into angry steam. “Get away! You’ll ruin everything, you big stupid clod!”
“Fine! Be that way!” Rock sulked, and solidified again, blocking the water flow. The few chunks of stone that did make it over the cliff looked pathetic as they tumbled like bricks, making ugly splashes in the pool below and sinking straight to the darkness of the bottom.
A few millennia later, Water felt some jealousy of her own. Rock was always being made into amazing things, from mountains to mansions. “I can be just as constructive as him,” she challenged herself.
Summoning all of her hydro-dynamic energy, she solidified into a lake of solid ice. Inspired, some humans turned away from the Rock, choosing instead to cut Water’s ice into huge blocks for building. They constructed a hotel out of her and lit her with hundreds of lights. She looked positively ethereal, shining in the snow like a crystalline castle. “Rock never looked as good as this,” she said smugly. “I can be hard and beautiful.”
And yet, despite her beauty and hardness, the humans who came to visit never stayed long. They exclaimed about her beauty, but complained about her coldness. And soon enough, the seasons changed and no matter how hard Water tried, she couldn’t maintain her solidness. She melted away with a deep, angry sigh of weariness.
Rock laughed a little smugly, knowing that the things built from him lasted thousands and even millions of years.
A different time, Rock tried to assume a majestic expanse like Water’s oceans, turning himself into a massive desert. It had waves, just like the ocean, but they were much harder and slower.
No one sailed boats on Rock’s sandy waves. The humans mostly avoided the desert ocean. Virtually nothing lived there. Rock sighed angrily, knowing that his plan had failed, but being Rock, just left his desert lying there anyway.
Water saw how richly moss grew on Rock’s boulders and mountains, carpeting them with lush green. She tried to lay still long enough to grow some moss of her own, but hers was a stagnant scum that stank and stifled her depths. Within a few decades, she threw the moss off and started running again in disgust.
And yet still, Rock saw how Water frolicked on the beaches, and he longed deeply to join her. He watched the majesty of her hurricanes and respected her. He felt her give herself to the land as rain, and he yearned for her.
“She’s more regal and beautiful and dynamic than I can ever hope to be,” he told himself.
Water, for her part, looked up at Rock’s imposing mountains and admired him. She saw the things built from him and respected him. She saw his steadfast reliability in the face of constant changing seasons and pined for him.
“He’s more solid and unscalable and immutable than I will ever be,” she sighed in her deepest heart.
Silently, they loved each other. They were equal in importance, in beauty, in strength. And yet, the more they tried to express their mutual admiration and affection by trying to be like the other, the further they pushed apart.
Water, when she tried to become Rock, was brittle and cold. Rock, when he tried to become Water, was destructive and searing.
Time went by. The years drifted into millennia. And then, slowly, a realization began to dawn on each of them, separately but similarly.
They were drawn to each because of their differences. And they were both only the best of themselves when they embraced those things that made them so different.
And further, they realized that it was when they were both completely themselves that they complemented each other and loved each other best.
Water could not frolic on the beach without the reliable bed of Rock’s sands. She could not cascade into waterfalls without the comforting strength of Rock’s cliffs.
And Rock could not be carved into his most impressive canyons over the centuries without water’s gentle, dynamic influence. His beauty was the shadow of hers, molded imperceptibly over time, made soft in the only way that he could be, by constant, gentle pressure.
Amazingly, both Rock and Water came to the same epiphany at the same time: they were only able to be their best selves when they allowed their other to be as different from them as they were made to be.
Water still resented Rock’s stubbornness. And Rock still chafed at Water’s persistent flowing energy. But with patience and an occasional eye-roll, they settled down together. They loved each other for their immense, necessary differences, not as bad imitations of themselves, but as their equal and opposite.
Rock scattered himself as boulders and stepping stones and rocky beds along the many miles of Water’s favorite, most curvaceous river. Together, they made rapids and shallows, circling pools and swift cascades, waterfalls and babbling currents. She laughed all day under the influence of his immobile solidity, and he softened over the years, his boulders losing their craggy viciousness and his stones becoming smooth as pillows, glittering under Water’s crystalline embrace.
They were utterly different, and sometimes they still drove each other crazy. But they were the best themselves when they were together. They knew this, and reveled in it.
And it only took a little over four billion years.