Men enjoy 'Downton Abbey' too, but for different reasons

Hugh Bonneville presides over a family that includes Elizabeth McGovern (left), and Maggie Smith (right).
Hugh Bonneville presides over a family that includes Elizabeth McGovern (left), and Maggie Smith (right).
Posted: February 15, 2012

LET'S BE honest here: "Downton Abbey" isn't the manliest of television shows. It's a highly addictive soap opera dressed up nice with a British accent. Despite "Saturday Night Live" parodies announcing a run on the uber-masculine Spike TV, "Downton's" love triangles, backstabbing and pretty costumes seem to spurn those with an XY chromosome.

But men are watching. PBS doesn't have specific demographic numbers and while the network knows the show skews female, they anecdotally acknowledge that men are watching. More so than, say, a Jane Austen movie marathon.

The series' availability via Netflix and iTunes has certainly helped its cause with men, as it has with the audience at large. All of the dudes the Daily News talked with about their "Downton" love caught up after the first season had aired. And they were mostly young, in the 27 to 35 range.

"I watched the entire first series in two days," said Aaron Mettey of Graduate Hospital.

Most found out about the show through word of mouth and social media. (None were forced into watching by wives or girlfriends.) Matt Prigge saw that comedian Patton Oswalt - whose tastes run more "Star Wars" than "War and Peace" - was tweeting about the show ("If I'm ever concussed by a German bomb, PLEASE bring me to Downton Abbey - and Bates' embrace - ASAP. #DowntonPBS" was one of Oswalt's tweets). That recommendation and its critical success got Prigge to watch the show.

"There's not a whole lot of World War I dramas," Prigge said. "Not a lot of people do that time period. World War II is exhausted."

Like Prigge, many men cited the time period, saying they enjoyed watching the shift in technology from the first season when a car was viewed as foreign to the second when it became a part of everyday life, or the shocking presence of the telephone.

"Guys always have a romanticism with the past in regards to running a household, not to come off as chauvinistic," said Brian McEntee, of Queen Village. "The possibility of inheriting an estate from out of nowhere or returning from the war, having all of these people at your beck and call."

The theme of "duty versus desire," as Scott Sheldon put it, appeals to men, too. Many cited the character John Bates (Brendan Coyle), the valet of Lord Grantham, and butler Charles Carson (Jim Carter) as favorites because they do their jobs and put what they believe is right for the estate ahead of their own emotions.

"I like these cool, resolute types who don't let their personality traits get in the way," Prigge said.

"There's a Clint Eastwood epic flowing through the show in that everyone has deeply repressed emotions and is big on obligations to duty," said Joel Mathis of Fitler Square. "I don't think you see that in American shows so much, especially with reality TV. Everyone is putting their thoughts out there and emotions are heightened. [In 'Downton'] people are swallowing their deeply held feelings and doing their duty anyway. I wish I had the ability of Mr. Bates to stuff everything down into a dark hole, but instead I'm Twittering."

While Mathis exalted the emotional repression of the show, he added that its soapiness didn't bother him that much. Many serial shows have to get melodramatic to stay interesting, he said. "If you like 'The Sopranos,' you like soap operas, too," Mathis said. "You just like yours with guns and cursing."

Paul Montgomery, of the Northeast, agreed. "I think there is something to the soap opera or the serial drama that appeals to both genders. Guys who don't like soap operas still like the pathos and ups and downs of pro wrestling and football," Montgomery said. "While ['Downton'] isn't as manly or as gritty as something going on in the Super Bowl, it's so addictive because there are characters you care about leading tumultuous lives."

The boys can couch their love of "Downton Abbey" in as many metaphors of manliness as they want. But sometimes we all just need to escape a little.

"We might not say it but behind the scenes, they want that drama and whimsy to break up the monotony of 'Game of Thrones,' " said Vaughn Richardson of West Philly. "Every now and then, it's good to have a little bit of drama."

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