We caught part of an episode of Downton Abbey on PBS a few weeks ago, and we were hooked, sort of against our wills. (Against my will, I guess. I suppose I still have that American male inbred resistance to PBS's Anglophilia, even though, when it comes right down to it, I love that kind of shit.) Read up on it and learned that PBS was presenting it wrong, so put the DVDs in the queue (lovely Anglophilic word, that). You, O Reader, may wish to do the same. It's good.
Watch any random ten minutes, and you'll probably think, as I did, "gee, this feels like Gosford Park." And you won't be wrong: it's written by the same guy. What leads you to make the association is, undoubtedly, the upstairs-downstairs nature of the story, where we get the traumas of the nobles intertwined with those of the commoners in such a way that neither feels trivialized and each resonates with the other in interesting ways. But whereas Gosford Park crammed it all into a little over two hours, channeled it into a murder mystery, and crossed it with Robert Altman's trademark stylistic obsessions, making it as much about savoring the textures of the scenes as about understanding the world, here it's stretched out over seven episodes, presented in the context of a dynastic succession crisis, and slowed down so that each separate character is given time to develop. The result is a full realization of all the rich insights that Gosford Park mostly just hinted at. (Plus lots of eye candy in terms of settings and costumes, and some wickedly satisfying villains.)
Downton Abbey is also, incidentally, the kind of thing I mean when I say that American TV shows could sometimes benefit from a more limited run, planned into them from the beginning. At seven episodes and somewhere around nine hours, this can develop the storylines and relationship much more than a/the movie, but without drawing them out needlessly as would happen if this were an American series. At the end of the seventh episode, you really feel like things are wrapped up meaningfully, if not to your perfect satisfaction. They're going to make a second series, and I'll watch it, but there's something very aesthetically pleasing about it the way it stands.