Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Coming Soon: An American 'Downton Abbey'

Julian Fellowes, the creator of the British period drama “Downton Abbey,” has concluded a deal to create a new period drama for NBC based on the Gilded Age of New York City, the network announced on Tuesday.

The new television drama will be produced by the NBC Universal television studio.

In its release, NBC described the series, which will be called “The Gilded Age,” as an “epic tale of the princes of the American Renaissance, and the vast fortunes they made — and spent — in late 19th century New York.”

Mr. Fellowes said in a statement, “This was a vivid time with dizzying, brilliant ascents and calamitous falls, of record-breaking ostentation and savage rivalry; a time when money was king.”
Read the rest here.

I suppose it was inevitable, but I have doubts about this. It's an interesting period in history to be sure. My fear though is that this will just be a sort of "Dallas" set in the 1880's instead of a serious exploration of Gilded Age Society. Yes, money and greed were big factors but there were other issues too. It was the age of the industrial revolution and a massive gulf between the plutocrats of Fifth Avenue and the slums and tenements of the Lower East Side. It was the age of remarkable social reform movements from Temperance to Women's Suffrage. And it was also the period when you saw the first wave of political radicalism in the Anarchist movement and later the early Marxists.

The track record of Americans when it comes to period drama is spotty at best. We have had some great ones like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire. But we also routinely produce lackluster period pieces that can't seem to confine themselves to the era they are supposed to be in or they try to be hybrid soap operas or sitcoms. I remember that an attempt was made to create an the American Upstairs Downstairs in the 70's and it flopped badly.

We will have to see if this is more Edith Wharton or J.R.Ewing in top hat and frock coat.


August said...

I enjoyed the first season of Downton Abbey, but there was too much feminist malarkey in it for me to justify going on to the next season.
I suspect we'll get the same silliness here, possibly with a dash of racial stuff too.
I generally like watching period pieces because people were trying to build up their families, not tear them down. Fellowes makes his characters all narcissistic single-generation thinkers, and the responsibilities of carrying on the family name is often cast as a curse rather than as a blessing. Aggravating to the extreme. I suspect he should only be in charge of set design and costumes.

priest's wife - S.T./ Anne Boyd said...

It could be really interesting- I'll give it a chance

rick allen said...

It's certainly something that can be done, though so many period dramas, written from a contemporary vantage point, seem to exist mainly for the purpose of extolling contemporary values and "progress." "Mad Men" (which I have much enjoyed) is an obvious case in point.

I would point to Martin Scorsese's film of Edith Wharton's "Age of Innocence" as a successful portrait of that age--but how inexplicable that film has appeared to friends who have seen it, how very foreign. It's easy to satirize the foibles of another age (and Ms. Wharton was, in the novel, in fact doing more than a little of that). Not so common is the ability to portray how those standards and mores, which we find so backward, were accompanied by virtues such as personal honor which we may have lost, and perhaps can't even recognize any more.

(Also, it's frankly stunning to watch a Scorsese film in which no one gets whacked.)