Nor downstairs neither, as the downstairs folk would probably word it.
I hate watching people fight, even when the outcome matters to me, so I set up one computer to a live blog and Twitter feed of the vice-presidential debate and on the other one we downloaded the current episode of the rebooted “Upstairs, Downstairs.” A complete set of the original series is one of the best Christmas presents I ever got, and I had hopes for the revival; there was an older Jean Marsh, Rose Buck turned head of a domestic service agency, and Eileen Atkins, out from behind the typewriter as the eccentric memsahib who brings her Sikh retainer and her pet monkey to live with her son and daughter-in-law at a reopened Eaton Place. The whole late thirties setting — a moment in history which I have always found fraught and fascinating — should have clinched it. It’s cruel when the last program you would expect jumps the shark.
There’s no sign of Marsh in the second season — Rose is supposedly recovering from illness at a a sanatorium — and Atkins’ character has returned as the contents of an engraved urn reverently placed by the Sikh on a shelf during the first few minutes of the episode. Marsh apparently is really ill, and I gather Atkins saw the direction things were taking and jumped ship; but what’s left behind is a shambles. Not a living soul in the cast is likable, or rather those who have likable moments proceed to do such unlikable things that no real character ever develops; every interaction seemed at best the result of the scriptwriter’s need to grab attention for a plot with no particular direction. The new mistress of Eaton Place has yet to be shown as anything other than a fluttery baby factory. Possibly the most charming character — the late mem-sahib’s monkey — is callously dispatched in a piece of emotional sadism toward the audience that Jean Marsh and her fellow writers would never have countenanced. And we are asked to accept the addition to the cast of an adult mental retardate, revealed in the last season’s finale as having been born to the mem-sahib but secretly kept in a home, which preposterously displays the acuity required to call the police and report the monkey’s death as a “murder.” By the time the whole thing was over — in stark contrast to the old program, where even quarrels reminded you what endearing qualities inhered in each role — nearly every character’s behavior had been so ugly that I would have felt more edified by tuning in to the debate.
Here’s a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there’s a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war’s alarms,
so I probably should be fretting about what they said and not about the loss of a reliable stream of narrative comfort food. But even Yeats couldn’t stop wanting to hug the pretty girl, while I contend that at times comfort food is the one thing you can rely on. And I can’t afford to eat any more of that mac and cheese.
Maybe I’ll price a set of those old James Herriot shows.