Diversity, Schmiversity: Black Folks Can Like “Downton Abbey” Too…
You know how Netflix has the “10 ten suggestion for you,” option, which is suppose to find films and television shows that cater to your specific taste but never seems to actually get it right? Well one of those “suggestions for you” just so happened to be Masterpiece Theatre: Downton Abbey.
The first time I heard of “Downton Abbey” was earlier this year when Gawker ran an article called Why Everyone in the Universe Should Watch Downton Abbey. I read it, and despite its somewhat reasonable arguments, I brushed it off. It’s not because it was British, because I love British television shows. In fact, I grew up on a healthy dose of British tomfoolery such as Are You Being Served?, Keeping Up Appearances, Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and a ton of other shows. Nor was it because it was one of those old period pieces, I rather enjoys those too. It’s simply because I don’t have a television in my house, so I don’t always get to see the stuff that folks are watching. Plus, I have become so disillusioned by Netflix and its suggestions that another faulty selection just might have pushed me over the edge. Sob. It’s like it doesn’t even know me.
But I decided to give the algorithmic system another chance. So I crashed on my couch, under the fan and got my old lady on with some Masterpiece Theatre. Three episodes later, I was sipping on green tea, eating some toast (the closest thing to tea and crumpets I had) and was fully engrossed in the first season of Downton Abbey. And if that wasn’t enough, at work the next day, all I could think about was how I couldn’t wait to go home and watch the remainder of the first season. It truly is just that good. And suddenly my faith in Netflix’s top suggestions has been redeemed. Let the church say Amen.
The show, which is about an aristocratic British family at the turn of the century, has everything you want in a 1-hour drama: romance, sex, war, sibling rivalry, comedy and a whole bunch of social commentary. One of the major reasons why I like the show is because it does such a good job of exploring the issues of class and wealth, through not only the Lords and the Ladies of the estate, but also the various staff and servants who keep the estate in order. Downton Abbey is not only beautifully cast but also well written, and should probably be on everyone’s top ten list of shows to watch – if it isn’t already.
After I finished the first season, I called one of the girlfriends, who is always game to talk smack about a show’s plot points, and told her about my new prime time fix. I said to her, “Girl, you know what you should be watching? Downton Abbey.” Her response? “Nuh-uh. I’m not watching that. That show is for white people.”
Scooby Doo “Rhuh?”
This is not the first time I heard such a proclamation come out of her mouth. Last year, after I discovered the joys of Don Draper and the rest of the gang on Mad Men, I pleaded with her then to begin watching the show with me so that we could gossip. I got back virtually the same answer. “I’m not watching any show with no Black people on it,” she said.
Well that’s just silly. Besides, there are a number of shows with not a single black face on them that became must-see television in many black households. That list includes shows like Wonder Years, Married with Children, Full House, Friends, Three’s Company, Frasier, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Cheers and of course, the ever popular Seinfeld. I mean, those shows might have had guest starred a black person in an episode or two but for the most part they failed to consistently weave in any real diversity and mostly remained pretty homogenous. Yet we, particularly my girlfriend, still counts many of these black-less shows in our top ten. So what’s the fuss now?
“Well that was different. Times have changed,” she said.