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Primal Screen

Upstairs, meet Downstairs

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Downtown Abbey (8pm Sunday, PBS)
Masterpiece has worked hard to expand its range, but the success of Downtown Abbey —rave reviews, Emmy awards, high ratings — proves that people really just want to see another variation on the old Upstairs Downstairs theme. And why not? Nobody can tease out the nuances of the master-servant relationship like the Brits, and few periods inspire British filmmakers more than the Edwardian 1910s. In that decade, the upper classes still had their sense of entitlement, plus all the elegant clothes and table settings that went along with it. But the age-old walls between the high- and low-born were starting to crumble, with a big assist from World War I.

The second season of Downtown Abbey masterfully exploits these tensions. It cuts back and forth from the serene estate in Yorkshire, where all the old rules apply, to the chaotic battlefield of the Somme, where none of them do. Matthew (Dan Stevens) returns to Downtown from the front with his new fiancée, Lavinia (Zoe Boyle), piercing the heart of former flame Mary (Michelle Dockery). The countess (Maggie Smith) treats Lavinia with exquisitely polite condescension upon learning that her father is merely a solicitor. “My, my, you’re very well placed if you’re ever in trouble with the law.”

Little does the countess realize that the snobs’ days are numbered. Down in the basement, new servant Ethel (Amy Nuttall) causes a stir by refusing to accept her station. “I want the best and I’m not ashamed to admit it,” she proclaims.

Everybody laughs at her, but we, of course, know that the rest of the century belonged to Ethel, not the countess.

The Bachelor (7pm Monday, ABC)
The new season features the usual manly-yet-sensitive dude, Ben Flajnik, who earnestly searches for his soulmate among a group of women chosen by the ABC casting department. This installment piles on the signifiers of fairytale romance: walks on a moonlit beach, evenings in a cozy hot tub, treks up a picturesque mountain.

It all looks so misty and enchanting that you feel kind of bad to see Ben’s pool of potential true lovers filled with basket cases and psychos, determined to destroy each other. Sample dialogue, spoken by women with angry tears and blotchy skin:
“She makes me sick!”
“I’m going to kill whoever comes through that door!”
“I just want to rip her head off!”
Nothing spoils a fairytale romance like decapitation.

Who’s Still Standing? (7pm Monday, NBC)
The eternal search for a new game-show gimmick continues. Who’s Still Standing? places contestants on top of trap doors and fires trivia questions at them. If they answer incorrectly, the trap door opens and — WAAAaaa…!

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