Soapy Masterpieces by
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Prompted By Guilty Pleasures

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One guilty pleasure I share with my husband is PBS Masterpiece Theater serials than can tend to be soapy. Prior to the pandemic, we had enjoyed Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife, and Sherlock. But with more time on our hands since March 2020, we find ourselves indulging this guilty pleasure more often. Most recently, we have embarked on a journey in Around the World in 80 Days, solved mysteries with Grantchester, Wallander, and Vienna Blood, and discovered some old treats like Doc Martin, The Indian Doctor, and Endeavour on various streaming channels (although these often disappear after we have been hooked by the first season).

Our friends at Downton Abbey

One guilty pleasure I share with my husband is PBS Masterpiece Theater serials

I do feel a bit guilty watching wealthy nouveau riche Americans battle the old monied crowd in 1882 on The Gilded Age when I should be fighting income inequality in today’s gilded age. Or hoping James Herriot will finally proposes to Helen Alderson on All Creatures Great and Small when I should be finishing Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen. Miss Scarlet and the Duke was amusing, although as with all stories of this type, I can be sure that opposites will attract and romance will be in the air eventually. I could be doing more writing, but our addiction to these shows distracts me.

Lest you think this is a total waste of time, I did learn a bit of history watching Victoria, Wolf Hall, and The Bletchley Circle. And Last Tango in Halifax, in which a couple reunites and marries after 50 years apart, was a hoot for those of us of a certain age. Anne Reid, born in 1935, and Sir Derek Jacobi, born in 1938, play the romantic couple — rather inspiring.

Just writing about this makes me feel a bit guilty, but these shows also make me happy and take my mind off of The Big Lie, Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine, voting rights restrictions, the end of Roe v. Wade, inflation, banned books, and huge trucks barricading access to cities and bridges (which will no doubt be coming to a city near you soon). These are tough times, so I will take my guilty pleasures whenever I can.

Will James propose? Will she say yes?

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I’ve enjoyed many of the same shows, Laurie (I’m finding The Gilded Age to be beautiful but a bit too soapy), but it is fun to be transported to another time and place and maybe even learn something along the way. From your fellow-lover, I encourage you to lose the guilt.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I actually don’t feel that guilty about it if the show is good. Gilded Age is a bit tedious and clearly Downton Abbey lite, but I love the mansions and costumes. Also, I have learned a few things I didn’t know about that time period (assuming what they present is true).

  2. John Shutkin says:

    I’m delighted to say, Laurie, that my wife and I share your guilty pleasure — thus making me feel less guilty. Right now, we are finishing up watching “Around the World…” and the second season of the new “All Creatures…” and enjoying them both.

    The PBS Masterpiece shows are escapist, to be sure, and help to take our minds off the bigger issues/threats we are facing, but what’s wrong with that? They are well done and at least middlebrow, I would argue. Plus, my wife has an even guiltier (to my mind) PBS pleasure: watching re-runs of “Antiques Roadshow” — both the US and UK versions. Happily, we have about forty years — and counting — of them to work our way through.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      So nice that you and your wife share our addiction. These shows are so much better than typical TV fare. I love seeing the wonderful mostly British actors, although we are too cheap to spring for BritBox, and also afraid another streaming service would do us in. Will Phileas Fogg make it (LOL)?

  3. Perfect story Laurie, you are so right about the ambivalence between escaping our current sorry word, and worrying about how to save it.

    At least good news – as you surely know by now James got down on one knee in front of Helen and proposed. Can’t wait for the wedding!

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Those shows do get my mind off everything—sort of. Around the World drives me crazy because it is so unbelievable, but I have been getting into it and I give it credit for updating and criticizing the British colonial views. I re-saw the original (David Niven and Shirley MacLaine) some years ago and that was truly cringe-worthy. Great list of TV diversions.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      I don’t remember the original movie, although I know I saw it. The current one os, of course, unbelievable and has some stereotyping of “exotic” peoples, but I can’t help myself.I’m really into the relationship between Fix and Passepartout.

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    I was a devoted watcher of several British or Masterpiece Theater series long ago; Flame Trees of Thika, The Last Place on Earth, To Serve Them All My Days, All Creatures Great and Small, The Citadel and probably a few more. It never occurred to me that they were actually soaps, but damn, they were at that!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      So what, Dave. Soaps give us characters we care about and there are enough happy endings to carry us through the drama and chaos. These days, whatever brings me a bit of happiness is welcome.

      • Dave Ventre says:

        I was not denigrating the genre at all, Laurie. When I was a kid I used to kid my grandmother about her devotion to her “stories” as she called them (Edge of Night, Days of our Lives etc) which were EXTREMELY soapy. Heck, I was eight years old and picking holes in their twisted plots.

        I simply did not at first recognize the genre when I started watching my cited shows a couple of decades later, as the acting and writing had become so much more realistic (not an amnesia case or evil twin in the bunch!).

    • Thanx Dave for reminding me of Flame Trees of Thika!
      I haven’t watched many of the shows mentioned but Flame Trees was wonderful. We also watched and loved Treme, have you seen it?

  6. Marian says:

    This was a fun read, Laurie. I also like some of those shows, but more recently have gravitated toward middle-brow(?) mysteries. At least with those order is restored, unlike in our crazy world.

  7. Suzy says:

    We watched Last Tango in Halifax years ago, when it was first on PBS, and I loved it, although Ed was lukewarm. Then it disappeared. Is it streaming someplace now? Of the others you list, I’ve only watched Grantchester and Doc Martin, but didn’t get addicted. As I say in my story, during the pandemic I don’t think we should feel guilty about watching TV, since we’ve been basically stuck at home for so long.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Like you, we puzzle over where some of these shows go. I don’t remember if we finished Last Tango, but it definitely became less interesting as it progressed. Some of the other ones I mentioned were much better than others. We also loved two Australian shows, Rake and Offspring. The latter was really addictive, quirky, and sometimes funny, and everyone I recommended it to loved it. I think it’s on Netflix now.

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