New Yorkers delighted in a promotional visit of the Downton Abbey stars this past December. Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern and the rest of the cast did a Q&A with PBS. A Downton tea truck made the rounds, giving out free tea and biscuits. New Yorkers are quick to claim the show as their own, and if they’re not careful, they’ll wind up with an American remake. Let’s take a moment to imagine a Downton Abbey set in New York City.
Because of the impact of the Titanic’s sinking on New York’s psyche, the nautical calamity wouldn’t be a mere plot device to trigger an inheritance crisis. Instead, Robert Crawley would navigate the clogged, brick-lain roads in his limo to Pier 54, where the surviving passengers were to arrive via the Carpathia, hoping for the survival of the “heirs” to whatever American business he owned. Or maybe, he’d push through the crowds to read the list of survivors on the newspaper’s bulletin board, or stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the masses listening to the National Broadcasting Company’s updates by David Sarnoff. On second thought, he’d probably just pay a newsie a few cents to go and report back. Meanwhile, the mustache-twirling American equivalent to Richard Carlisle (played by Tom Selleck?) would smuggle journalists onto the recently docked Carpathia, despite a strict “No Reporters” rule.
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The August 1914 WWI kickoff would impact the story less, however. Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) wouldn’t go to battle until 1917, when the U.S. officially chose sides. Before that, half of NYC was below the poverty line and had other things to worry over. Because of the influx of immigration, most of the servants would be new arrivals or African American. The class distinction would feel more like Upstairs, Downstairs than Downton Abbey. But Downton’s “rich people and poor people are not so different after all” thread would return when the U.S. joined the war. With the economy booming, the unemployed got jobs where subservience wasn’t required, and women proved they were as good as men in heavy industry. Over in England, poor Lady Mary couldn’t even be heir to her own estate.
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Later, Lady Rose would be whooping it up in the hot new Harlem jazz bars and speakeasies under cover of basement lighting and tobacco smoke. And just to piss off her mother, she’d hook up with the owner of one of the jazz clubs, a gangster with a nick name like The Killer.
And now that we’ve imagined what an American remake of Downton Abbey would look like, let’s all cross our fingers and pray it never happens.
Jaime Nelson is editor of anglonerd.com, a British TV and comedy blog for Americans.
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