Here’s an unsolicited insight into my psyche and emotions: every single thing that I do must be worthwhile to me. That doesn’t make me unique, of course, but the rub is in one’s definition of worthwhile. For me, this magical word means that an endeavor somehow brings about a positive ultimate effect. Whether it’s enriching my family, nurturing me spiritually, teaching my children, strengthening my bond with my wife, expanding my mind, making the world better (even in some minute way), or becoming healthier, the things that I do must be productive or life-affirming in some way.
What on earth does this have to do with a BBC television series?
I’ll do my best to make the connection. I resist watching television because most shows are a waste of life. That doesn’t mean that I hold those who watch Jersey Shore in contempt or anything else so dismissive or unkind—it simply means that shows like that offer me nothing redemptive, nothing enriching. There are other shows I avoid watching simply (and ironically, I realize) because I know I’ll enjoy them. You see, a television show equals a commitment. I know that if I start watching Sherlock, which by all accounts is brilliantly written, acted, and directed, I will be hooked. The fact that absorbing the show would, subconsciously, make me a better storyteller is sometimes enough to justify it. But I need a little bit more irrational personal justification to commit to watching it.
I started watching The Walking Dead last week because I can lift weights and/or run while I view it. There! I think. I’m improving my body and my health and improving my storytelling craft simultaneously! The aggregate of these positive effects means that The Walking Dead, in my own strange mind, is a justifiable endeavor. I want to learn more about the characters, which means I want to watch more episodes, and that in turn magnetizes the weight bench and the treadmill so that a television show about zombies becomes symbiotically linked to my physical well-being. I realize how stupid that probably sounds to you, but in my mind it makes perfect sense.
Which brings us to Downton Abbey.
It’s not exactly the kind of show you watch when you work out. There aren’t a whole lot of adrenaline rush scenes or moments of high intensity butt-kicking (unless you count verbal butt-whuppins). So I can’t watch it while I work out. It’s too sophisticated for my kids (who are seven, five, and one), and anyway, they’re already my justifications for watching movies like The Incredibles, Tangled, and Toy Story 2 over and over.
Ahhh, but my wife…?
Yes, I realized the other day. It’s just the sort of beautiful convergence of our tastes. We loved the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (a future blog post, no doubt), my wife loves Titanic, and I’m a sucker for Jane Austen‘s fiction. And though I know I’m mixing eras here, Downton Abbey does possess a similar vibe to the aforementioned works. So we watched it last night.
And now I’m obsessed.
This show crackles with intensity. The scenery is breathtaking, the period details impeccable. Each character is sharply drawn and distinct, and there are multiple story lines interweaving in fascinating ways. What I love most, I think, is the dialogue—both what is said and what is left unsaid. Indirect dialogue like the kind in Downton Abbey offers something for every storyteller, regardless of one’s chosen genre. I love books, movies, shows, etc. that leave me itching to write—not to play copycat or to parrot anything specific; rather, a great story inspires me to tell one of my own. And subconsciously, I know a great story will permeate my thinking in the most delicious and unexpected ways, which is part of the wonder and joy and discovery of writing.
So tonight my wife and I will experience Episode Two of Season One. We’ll spend time together and bond through the show. I’ll be entertained, intellectually stimulated, and very possibly, moved. There’s a certain Bates character to whom I’m already deeply attached. I want to know what will happen with him. I’m dying for him to be treated with dignity. I’m rooting for him as though I’ve known him for a dozen years.
And as if this weren’t all enough, the show comes with a haunting main theme. Here it is…
Now I’m off to work on my vampire western. And if you can believe it, somewhere in the deepest recesses of my mind, I’ll be mulling over Mr. Bates and how he can help me better draw my own characters.