Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Them’s Fightin’ Words: Headed for a Downton Abbey Smackdown

Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever throws down the gauntlet in his less than praiseworthy review of Downton Abbey season two. Whether the smackdown will take place on Downton Green or in a nearby smelly cow pasture remains to be seen. Patriarch Colonel Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is wearing his fake uniform (he’s too old to fight in the Great War), albeit snugly, with fisticuffs raised to defend his TV family’s honor.
Although Stuever enjoyed the first season, he laments that Downton now represents “a house full of fascinating people with not nearly enough to do, all caught in a loop of weak storylines that circle round but never fully propel.” True. The characters’ main preoccupations are receiving distressing letters; complaining about the convalescing soldiers whom they agreed to house; and vying for power—who is in charge of the kitchen staff, anyway? They seem to do as they please.
“Midway along, you’ll get the sneaking suspicion that Fellowes [the series' creator & writer] adores his characters far too much to let anything of real consequence happen to them.”
It’s true. So far, all the really bad stuff has happened to supporting characters. Poor William the footman, for example, succumbed to his war injuries in the last episode, whereas Lady Mary's inexplicable love interest Matthew Crawley merely sustained a major spinal injury and broken penis.
Steuver can be funny in his criticism: “One by one, the characters return in the opening episode in a way that feels as if they’ll be greeted upon entry by Lenny-and-Squiggy-style applause.”
 But he does need to get out of the house more often: “At one point, I was transfixed by the lace pattern on the bib of a housemaid’s apron.” My dad summed it up best: “I have no empathy for any of these people.”
Steuver concludes that “To enjoy 'Downton Abbey' is to vicariously luxuriate in their luxuriating…” In sum, enjoy the period costumes and setting, because the writing is so-so and the characters are one-dimensional. Don’t be surprised if Stuever finds himself on the receiving end of some rather nasty letters—sealed with wax, naturally—from the show’s legions of rabid fans.

Who says you have to eat healthy to eat local? Not I. Don’t believe those people; they are snobs. You do not have to go to a farmer’s market or belong to a CSA (community-supported agriculture). Although I have nothing against turnips, sometimes a chemically laden baked good hits the spot. Several homegrown companies offer treats you with which you can supplement your vegetable quota: Tastycake Baking Company (Philadelphia), Hershey’s (Hershey, PA), and Herr’s (Nottingham, PA), for example. But are they all equally yummy? According to one of my fourth-grade students (Mr. X) and I, the answer is decidedly no.
I selected three delicacies for us to sample: milk chocolate (Hershey’s vs. Cadbury); plain potato chips (Herr’s vs. Lays); and chocolate-covered donuts (Entenmann's vs. Tastycake). Turns out my student and I both have refined palates. The results: Hershey’s beat Cadbury. Hershey’s was super “chocolatey” and “smooth but not shiny.” Cadbury’s Dairy, on the other hand, was “shiny” and “creamy” but, according to my student, “not chocolatey enough.”
The Lays chips won because one: Mr. X ate all of them. And two, they had more flavor. We both appreciated the way some of the chips “curled over like a blanket,” as well as the grease they left on our fingers. Herr’s was dry and tasteless in comparison.
The donuts were the best part of the test. Tastycake does not make full-sized donuts, only donettes, so the average-sized Entenmann’s donuts were matched against their baby counterparts. No matter! Once more, local triumphed: the Tastycake donettes were chocolatey on the outside. The cake inside was dry, whereas Entenmann’s was moister inside but the waxy chocolate lacked flavor. You would think moist is good, but in this case it was faintly redolent of orange. As Mr. X pointed out, "You don't expect your chocolate donut to taste like an orange." Touché, Mr. X, touché. 

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