Herb Benham

Thursday, Jan 09 2014 03:44 PM

HERB BENHAM: 'Abbey' plot twist is a real downer for fans

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By Herb Benham

I thought we might have a "Downton Abbey" meltdown recently. I'd risen early on a Sunday and spotted a plot spoiler in the paper that would have ruined Sue's enjoyment, had she seen the article first.

Fortunately, Lady Benham was upstairs awaiting breakfast in bed at the hands of our capable staff, or from Lord Benham, himself. A breakfast that might have included fresh-squeezed orange juice and a coddled egg served on one of our silver house trays.

"Downton Abbey" is the monster hit on PBS packed with humor, a terrific cast and great writing. Lord and Lady Benham are addicted. The fourth season started Sunday.

My pitch to the uninitiated, especially my children, has been: "Forget that it's on PBS; don't get thrown off by the name 'Downton Abbey' and don't worry that it's a period piece set in the English countryside in the first part of the 20th century.

"Think soap opera. Think servants. Think dress-up with a trunk so expansive you may not see the same topcoat twice."

If nothing else, it's worth watching Maggie Smith run laps around a lot of accomplished actors.

The plot spoiler was this: Matthew Crawley -- you've never seen anybody better looking in your life -- dies at the end of the third season in an automobile accident after visiting his wife, Lady Mary, and their new child in the hospital.

How could this happen? Dan Stevens, the actor who plays Matthew Crawley, opted to leave the series after the third season, so the scriptwriters had to write him out of the show.

Stevens is the charming, well-spoken, Cambridge-educated actor who has become famous as the romantic lead in Downton.

"It was a very difficult decision," Stevens said in an interview (not with Lord Benham, who refuses to interview the English quitter).

"But it felt like a good time to take stock, to take a moment. From a personal point of view, I wanted a chance to do other things."

Wouldn't you love to be able to say that once? Leave the biggest show on the planet so you can "take a moment, take stock" and "do other things"?

"It is a very monopolizing job. So there is a strange sense of liberation at the same time as great sadness because I am very, very fond of the show and always will be."

Lord Matthew, Lord Benham speaking here: Curt Flood and free agency not withstanding, nobody in a popular show with a great part leaves. Period. Once you're in, you stay in.

We don't care if you have literary aspirations -- they'll hold. Or they won't. It's not like we need more novels anyway. We can't even read the ones we have.

Maybe you didn't think you were getting paid enough. Join the party. Most of us don't get paid what we think we're worth. That's what drinking is for and swearing at people who cut us off.

Matthew Crawley, you are going on to your literary pursuits, your Man Booker prize, whatever the heck that is, your Broadway shows and your movies yet to be made. It's all ahead of you.

Meanwhile, back at the Benham manor, I have Lady Benham, who is not too happy about you making Lady Mary a single mother because you were distracted by some early form of driving while texting.

"Don't read the newspaper this morning," I said, when the first lady of 20th Street came downstairs.

"There's something about 'Downton Abbey' you don't know yet."

She nodded and asked if I would pull the offending article from the stack of papers. I did and Lady Benham rewarded me with a splendid curtsy, which, Matthew, had you hung in there, would have been yours to enjoy.

These are the opinions of Herb Benham and not necessarily The Californian's.

Email: hbenham@bakersfield.com.

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