I’m a new and complete convert, possibly relating to obsessive tendencies, to Downton Abbey, the fabulously produced Masterpiece Theatre hit. I watched Season 1 in its entirety in one sitting, fascinated from the first scene and amazed at how quickly the Abbey’s family, Grantham, the Dowager, Mary, Mr. Bates and Mrs. O’Brien, to name a few, became part of my vocabulary. Twenty or so, fleshed out characters, with skeletons and futures and hopes and faults. I’m equally fascinated with the setting and time period. What Cora and her daughters wear to entertain and for everyday and how the British aristocracy lived and what was important to them.
In contrast, let’s turn our attentions to Jersey Shore. There’s JWOWW aptly named for what men holler out when she walks into a bar. Described as ‘impulsive and spontaneous , a party girl with zero self control.’ Could this be Mary of Downton Abbey? Is Ronnie the stateside version of Thomas the scheming, footman? And certainly a fashion maven like Snooki would not be outdone by Edith or Sybil.
But the tragedy here is not that ‘The Situation’ doesn’t find a girlfriend or whether or not Vinny will attend law school. The tragedy is that DA began as a screenplay from Julian Fellowes and that Jersey Shore began as . . . well . . . it didn’t begin as anything other than 6 or 7 young adults vying to catch the attention of a generation whose attention is fleeting to say the least. As with any reality based TV show, the aim is to shock and therefore create some interest which may turn into viewers. How vapid and uninteresting are the lives of everyday people and how far will they go to create some buzz? One merely needs to turn to the repulsive ‘Housewives of’ to see how low is too low.
But the question at hand is how does Downton Abbey stack up to Jersey Shore? Is it necessary to have characters and a script and a director? Or is today’s entertainment defined by whatever flops out of Snooki’s mouth at any given moment? I’m not sure we can call it a harmless amusement when unscripted poor behavior results in a TV contract. But a countess dragging a dead body down a hallway? Oh yes! Now that’s entertainment.