Two key Spinoff writers Alex Casey and Joseph Moore share a dirty little secret: they’ve never seen any of the defining ‘important’ TV shows of our time. They launched Catch Up Club to save them (and possibly you). This week they got lost in the Labrador-filled labyrinth of Downton Abbey. //
Alex: First of all, can I just say this, “…. . .-.. .-.. —”
Joseph: What, Alex. What are you saying?
Alex: It’s Morse code for hello. Welcome to Downton Abbey times.
Joseph: Sorry, I didn’t recognise it. Morse code: the emoji of the olden days.
Alex: So, big news: the Titanic sunk
Joseph: Way to open the show right? Not sure how they can up the stakes from here
Alex: They got a few wars coming. A moon landing. Do they even know anything about the moon yet?
Joseph: I don’t know, they don’t seem to know much. “You should be nice to people with disabilities” is one thing they are definitely unaware of.
Alex: I feel like the Mr Bates story, to which you are referring to, is sort of old-timey affirmative action. Except it’s pretty tense how he falls over 24/7 on any gravelly surface.
Joseph: The 1910s were not disabled-friendly. All that gravel and all those villainous maids kicking you over.
Alex: Some of the maids were very evil, eh? Let’s talk about the million different hierarchy levels for a bloody mo. I was overwhelmed by how many different brands of maid and butler there were.
Joseph: I’ll be honest Alex, I was very confused. As far as I was concerned, everyone was wearing a suit so everyone was fancy.
Alex: Something like “the higher the neckline, the higher the baller”. Maggie Smith’s neckline was approximately around her eyeballs, making her head baller.
Joseph: Who was she even? I am a smart man, I like to think. But I definitely came out of this not knowing who anyone was, what their relationship with anyone else was, or why they were doing anything.
Alex: I think Maggie Smith is the matriarch of the world. She is trying to get everyone to marry into the Crawley fortune, or something. I definitely don’t get it though, everything seems very incestuous. I wonder why it’s so hard to keep up with the characters?
Joseph: Maybe because they are throwing around a lot of words and concepts like “fortune”. They are hard to relate to when you are watching it on your laptop in your gross bedroom.
Alex: Yeah, I agree. I found myself Googling a lot, which is never a good sign. What are the basic storylines that are set up? 1) the Titanic sunk and there were rich sexy bachelors on it
Joseph: 2) A rich guy is coming to visit or something
Alex: 3) A lowly yet lovable kitchen hand is trying her hardest but having trouble getting some cut-up egg onto the table.
Joseph: 4) One butler wants to be a higher ranked butler, like a super-butler or something?
Alex: 5) Master Bates has shrapnel in his leg from a war (?) but is also trying hard to be a butler because it is the cool job that everyone wants. Like being an advertising guy in Mad Men or a President in House of Cards.
Joseph: 6) Joseph pauses it for like 5 minutes to sit in silence ‘cos he can’t deal with this show.
I’m sorry, the president of television, or whoever is in charge. We have had a good run but I did not like this Abbey. I did not like the people who lived in it, and I cared not to watch them go about their dumb business.
Alex: I liked it, despite being immensely confused almost the whole time. I liked seeing the chaos of the kitchen and all the downstairs stuff mixed with the cool, calm richies upstairs. I like Master Bates doin’ pratfalls. I liked the random labrador that would just appear sometimes in the background.
I almost see the show as challenge, I would like to watch it long enough to know all the characters by name and social standing.
Joseph: I guess I do appreciate a good challenge. Maybe you could watch it, like, whilst on a treadmill. “This week I’m going to lose two kilos, and watch five episodes of Downton Abbey.” The ultimate slog.
Alex: “What’s a treadmill?”- Maggie Smith. So do you think Downton Abbey had any redeeming features?
Joseph: I was endeared to the walking stick butler plot line.
Alex: Because it was a little bit like House?
Joseph: It was a very clear conflict that I could understand. “Who should I marry to earn my share of some convoluted family fortune?” appeals to me far less than “how do I walk up these stairs?” As far as conflicts go. I also really like when that butler and that maid had the brief existential crisis and career doubt. Nice to know butlers feel like us every now and then. “I wasted all those years in butler school!”
Alex: Yeah, I almost got the sense they had some love affair or something? Or were they just literally talking about lost years at butler varsity.
Joseph: Showing up late to class “Cut Up Egg 101” in the jeans they slept in. “Footsman 131: What the fuck is a footsman?”
Alex: According to the net, it’s a guy who runs alongside the carriage of the rich folk making sure they don’t hit obstacles. Then they run ahead to the arrival point and ‘prep’. Sounds like the worst job of all time. I would be an egg cutter all the way.
Joseph: For gender reasons this would probably be the way. And me a poor “man”, so marginalised in the early 20th century, would be on carriage duty.
Alex: Watch out for any tree roots, if you hurt your leg you are effed for your butler future.
Joseph: You gonna keep on keepin’ on with show then? You going to see how deep the Abbey hole goes? Just how many floors are there?
Alex: I assume the floors go all the way down to the earth’s core. I will keep watching, I have been promised there is some juicy action coming. That slick Duke has got to be pulling some moves on someone soon. And when I say moves I mean like, a handshake.
Joseph: Maybe I will watch more. I have actually kept going with Justified! So I should try and keep up with this rare commitment for Joseph Moore without any distractions.
Alex: Congrats, how is Justified going? This a rare moment in catch up history.
Joseph: Justified is good, there are more guns and plenty of handcuffs. Until I’ve fully caught up with that I might get my Downton fix by just repeatedly watching this dynamite on point Jono and Ben satire:
Alex: Dammit. I should have known you people would be all over that.
Joseph: I don’t want to put people off this show, it was v technically impressive, and well acted. And if you are the kind of person who cares about #butlerlife then I can’t imagine a show doing it better?!
Alex: Yeah, I guess it throws you right into that hectic butler realness without the giant sweeping intros that you normally see with these sort of period pieces. Which might also be what makes it so confusing. I will endure. Like Bates, I will pick myself up off this confusion gravel and continue to hobble up the stairs to Abbey enlightenment.
Joseph: Sorry for trying to kick you down.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.