Downton Abbey is priceless stuff

DOWNTOWN: Actress Maggie Smith
DOWNTOWN: Actress Maggie Smith

What a pleasure it is to have Downton Abbey back on our screens.

So it was with much interest that Mrs Brown and I sat down to watch the first episode last Thursday night and dear readers, I am happy to report that it was brilliant, absolutely fabulous, wonderful television. I'm not sure how many superlatives I am allowed, but suffice to say it was right up there with the best of British.

Writer Julian Fellowes does a brilliant job of setting the scene. As always he expertly introduces a new character or two while establishing new storylines at the same time.

He's also picked up on the huge following Maggie Smith has as the Dowager Countess and cleverly introduced an admirable foil for her in Cora's mother, Martha Levinson, played just as memorably by legendary American actress Shirley MacLaine.

Before Martha even arrives, the Dowager Countess goes one up in the caustic exchanges when she acidly observes "When I'm with her I'm so reminded of the virtues of the English."

Son-in-law-to-be Matthew expresses his surprise: "But isn't she American?"

"Exactly," responds the Dowager Countess, game set and match.

It was a line written with Maggie Smith in mind, and she obliges by delivering it perfectly.

Later on Martha arrives and immediately makes her presence felt. Speaking to her grand-daughter Lady Mary on her arrival, she says: "You must tell me all of your wedding plans and I'll see what I can do to improve them."

It really is priceless stuff.

You may remember in the last series Lady Sybil caused a scandal when she married Thomas the chauffeur. They now live in Ireland and came back for Lady Mary's wedding to Matthew - thanks to the money the Dowager Countess sent across - but Thomas, who is now known as Tom, is still a bolshie Irishman.

He even refuses to change into a dinner suit when it's dinner time, preferring to stay in his day suit. Oh the shame! The Dowager Countess does not let him off the hook.

"He's still dressed as the man from the Prudential, I see."

There is, as usual, plenty going on in the background, all expertly designed to keep us guessing, and without revealing any secrets, there are a couple of bombshells to be dropped. So do keep watching.

For her part Mrs B positively purred as she watched the opening 90-minute special. Never more so than when Tom, the Irish brother-in-law-to-be convinces Matthew to get over a quarrel with Lady Mary with some stirring oratory.

Later Matthew repeats it when making up with Mary. "I would never be happy with anyone else as long as you walk the earth." It's an "aw shucks" moment, and as Mrs B wiped a tear from her eye, I asked her if she still felt the same about me. "Could you ever be happy with anyone else as long as I walked the earth?"

"Of course not," she replied. "Unless Sonny Bill was available of course" she added.

The moment was gone. I was about to put the bottle of sav back in the fridge, when she spotted me in the act and quickly added "just kidding!"

The other event of note on the telly in the last week was the annual Fair Go Ad Awards. This used to be one of the televisual highlights of the year, but now, sadly, like the programme, it is little more than an imitation of its former self.

It's not so much lightweight as helium weight, and could easily have passed Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner if he'd stayed up there in his own balloon.

It was sad to see. I suspect the public vote has collapsed as well because although the best and worst five ads were still there, some were pretty bland and appeared to be there by default.

As usual there was much to see and not admire about the presenters, the staff and the wannabes, such as those auditioning for voiceovers, injecting so much of themselves into the programme. Ultimately, all it achieved was to be among the five most cringeworthy programmes of the year.

For the record, the best ad was the Mastercard rugby ad, in which supporter Tim wins a competition and meets the All Blacks in England, hugging Richie McCaw while asking who he's rooming with.

The worst ad was one I'd never seen before, of Lumino the Dentists, in which a couple kiss their way through the whole thing. Yawn. Perhaps with MySky increasing, more and more of us are just zapping our way through the ads and the whole thing is becoming irrelevant.

The Timaru Herald