Shows like Girls and The Nanny portray childcare as a temporary, middle-class job that comes with nonthreatening romantic entanglements. And Downton Abbey depicts domestic work as a stable career, so long as you can adhere to the house rules. But in the real world, domestic work is an unstable profession that can encompass unfair labor practices—and a lack of legal protection against them.
Yet, what Downton Abbey also offers for the modern viewer is the idea that, today, class differences have been overcome. The stark separation between the lives of the family and the staff illustrate a segregation that is no longer overt in today’s society. Few people have lives in literal servitude, and even fewer have actual servants. We like to believe that now, a hundred years later, class is really something entirely different, something more transmutable, blurrier, and more easily overcome.
Downton Abbey, a period piece about a family and their servants, living on an estate after the sinking of the Titanic but before the first World War. The patriarch of the family has no male heir and must surrender the estate to an obscure relation, the three daughters are being wooed by suitors, and their daily lives are mirrored in the power struggles that go on in the kitchen and the servant’s quarters. It is a high-quality show, full of intrigue and interest, and I found myself getting wrapped up in the drama of each episode. Sadly, we burned through them in a week, and new episodes don’t air until Winter 2012. When we next see the Crawley family, it will be without their first footman, Thomas.