Tips For Adulthood: Why You Should Abandon Glee For Downton Abbey

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, after yesterday’s rather somber post, I thought I’d lighten the mood around here today with some pop culture fun.

I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I find a series that does strike a chord, I tend to become obsessed and arrange my entire week around it.

For a while, that show was Glee. As I wrote not long ago, even when I began to find the story lines a bit tired, I was still inspired by the singing and dancing.

My TV obsession du jour right now is Downton Abbey. I almost gave up on it after the first few episodes, but now I’m thoroughly addicted.

Here are five reasons I’d recommend that you privilege Downton over Glee:

1. Plot. We’ve just finished Season Two of Downton over here – so I won’t include any spoilers. But suffice to say that while Glee felt really fresh during its first season – forcing us all to go back to that awkward, uncomfortable space called High School – it hasn’t really evolved very much, plot-wise. The basic arc every season seems to be one of the Glee Club being threatened with destruction – whether from inside or outside – and having to somehow manage to overcome that implosion. And after a while, that just gets boring. Downton, on the other hand, started off in an almost ridiculous fashion. (I don’t know about you, but when that guy died having sex, I nearly clicked the “off” button. When, since Private Benjamin, has anyone had to rely on that kind of plot device?) Since then, however, they have figured out ways to make the plot grow outward, rather than inward. Sure, it’s a soap opera. But at least there are multiple and constantly moving threads, rather than one central narrative.

2. Character Development. Similarly, and I’ve harped on this before, the characters in Glee feel like they are becoming more and more one-dimensional, while the characters in Downton are getting more nuanced. It’s true that Glee has done a great job in Seasons Two and Three of featuring some of the minor characters like Brittany and Mike and Tina. But I’ve been particularly disappointed by Sue Sylvester (played by the marvelous Jane Lynch) who – other than a very moving episode where her Downs Syndrome sister dies – has become a sort of sinister, freak show maniac over time. As Downton moved into Season Two, in contrast, I felt that all of the main characters – and particularly the nastier ones – began to show their humanity, which really went a long way towards making the show feel more realistic.

3. Leading Man. This is, of course, purely a matter of personal preference. But I’ve always been pretty creeped out by Matthew Morrison (Mr. Shue) and it’s not the hair gel. Downton’s Hugh Bonneville (The Earl of Grantham) isn’t exactly about to win People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive award. But there’s something wonderfully noble and endearing about him that makes you want to sit down for an extended fireside chat. (Or is that just me?)

4. Leading Lady. This is a really tough call because it’s comparing apples and oranges. I adore Jane Lynch, (along with just about everyone else on the planet, as far as I can tell.) If she hasn’t yet won you over, watch her perform one of former Representative Anthony Weiner’s Facebook messages with Bill Maher (NSFW). But Downton has Dame Maggie Smith in the role of the Dowager Countess of Grantham. And as we all know, there is nothing like a dame. (You can see how terribly hard it is for me to renounce the show tune aspect of Glee…)

5. Setting. Sorry, Ohio. I know that you’re a pivotal swing state and all. And I’ve always adored this song about you, which was apparently performed by Jane Lynch and Carol Burnett last season on Glee. But suburban, mid-western America can never hope to hold a candle to the breathtakingly beautiful English countryside. I don’t even think that the town of Rippen – featured in Downton Abbey – actually exists. But, oh, how I long to go there all the same. Don’t you?


Image: Downton by lauredhel via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.







  • Reply Jacob T. Levy

    November 10, 2011, 11:40 am

    I can never quite decide whether or not the writers understand that they’ve made Will an awful person and an amazingly awful teacher. I kind of think that they don’t. They think that because he’s the protagonist, loves his kids, loves music, and was wronged in the opening arc of the first season, they can pile on flaw after flaw and have them be lovable foibles. Or they might not realize that they’re creating flaws at all.

    I’d actually be much more likely to stick with Glee if I felt sure that, as an interesting Arrested Development-style experiment, they were trying to see how awful a person they could make the protagonist of a prime time show. I could stick with him as a consistent, coherent character who’s a terrible teacher and so emotionally scarred from his marriage that he’s terrible to women. But I don’t think that’s what they’re going for.

    • Reply delialloyd

      November 10, 2011, 12:19 pm

      Agreed. I really think the whole series would be much more inviting if we could identify with Will. That’s what makes the Hugh Bonneville character in Downton so appealing. He has his flaws (as we come to see in season two) and he’s a bit frumpy and old-school, but we basically like him and root for him, whereas Will is just a bit of a jack-ass. Thanks for chiming in!

  • Reply daryl boylan

    November 14, 2011, 8:29 pm

    No question — once you get hooked on a show’s characters, soap opera or not, you’re hooked. Can’t speak to “Glee”, which my grandchildren enjoy, but there’s the old, old show biz saw: “There’s bad schlock & good schlock.” Long may the good stuff wave!

  • Reply Rosie Clarke

    November 15, 2011, 5:54 pm

    Hi Delia,

    I think the town Downton’s set near is Ripon, in the Yorkshire Dales ( – it’s a lovely place to visit if you like cathedrals, ruins, museums and old market squares.

    Another reason why I like the show is the slow-burning romance between Anna and Mr Bates – compared to this, I can’t really bring myself to care about any of the Glee couples, who change partners so often.

    Still, I think there’s a place for both the programmes!

    • Reply delialloyd

      November 15, 2011, 8:20 pm

      Thanks Rosie. Yes, I’ve subsequently learned that Ripon is a real place – ha! Who knew? I also like Anna and Mr. Bates. Funny that I can never think of his real name…I watch very little TV so can’t really invest too much in 2 shows but I guess this post was more about why I’ve shifted gears than anything else. Thanks for dropping by!

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