The news that Dame Maggie Smith — aka the Dowager Countess — is hesitating to renew her contract for future seasons of “Downton Abbey” shook me to my very core. I mean, what would Downton be without her? A sad, empty shell of a show, that’s what. Here are 10 reasons “Downton Abbey” desperately needs the Dowager Countess …
1. As the matriarch of Downton, she sets the tone of the family–and the show. The Crawley family is quick-witted, practical, calculating, loyal, superficial, gossipy, and ultimately good-hearted, just like the Countess. If she left, would this delightful mix of warmth and pettiness live on?
2. Her zingers are legendary. “What is a weekend?” “Why does every day involve a fight with an American?” “I have plenty of friends I don’t like.” I can’t imagine “Downton”–or life in general, for that matter–without the Countess’ quick wit and sharp tongue.
3. She steals every scene. “Downton Abbey” scenes are like razors and boxed wine–they’re constantly stolen, and the Countess is most often the thief. Without her special brand of aristocratic charisma, every shot of that big drafty estate would feel so empty.
4. Her mad style. Puffed sleeves, high collars, rich jewel tones, opera gloves … the Countess brings her fashion A-game to every dinner service, and gives her stylish young grandmothers a run for their money.
5. Her verbal beatdowns of Cousin Isobel. If the Dowager Countess left, we would lose half of the best old lady sparring team on television. Tragedy!
6. Her issues with America. Many of the Dowager Countess’ patented zingers have to do with how she views America (and Americans) as loud, crass, and unrefined. Without the Countess knocking us down a few pegs every episode, who will keep America’s ego in check?
7. Her tense relationship with her daughter-in-law Cora. They’re like Debra and Marie from “Everybody Loves Raymond” except a billion times better in every way.
8. She’s stuck in the past. As the other residents of Downton slowly come to embrace the latest fads and technologies, such as telephones and pants, the Countess is firmly rooted in her old-fashioned ways. Her horror at these new developments (“Is this an instrument of communication, or torture?”) both makes us laugh and gives us a crucial reminder of the realities of life at the turn of the century.
9. Her lips deserve an Emmy for their commitment to pursing. Nobody’s lips can purse like Dame Maggie Smith’s. Nobody’s!
10. She gives the best advice. While she is often motivated by what would be best for the family’s image, there have been some really poignant moments between the Countess and her family (and even a few members of the household staff) that show her keen insight and prescient intuition. And more often than not, her advice–and her family’s decision whether or not to take it–moves crucial plotlines forward.
My best advice to the folks in charge of “Downton Abbey”? Give this Dame whatever she wants, because you need her. We all need her.