Masterpiece Theatre (now just called Masterpiece for some reason) is celebrating its 40th anniversary on PBS this year. But age is just a number, if the work ethic over at Masterpiece is any indication. The producers are putting in the overtime these days, trying to keep up with the advances of technology, HD and 3-D and all the rest by creating period dramas so lush, so packed with historically-correct details and visual perfection that those of us who are fans of the genre are nearly overwhelmed by the viewing experience. A sensory meltdown. Or maybe I’m revealing how sheltered my life is, if watching Masterpiece on pbs.org is enough excitement to cause fainting spells.
Well, the smelling salts have been passed and the morning after watching the first episode of the new Upstairs Downstairs, I revived enough to head out for a foray into secondhand stores. And wouldn’t you know it, I found my own little piece of Upstairs Downstairs, discovering an Art Deco creamer & sugar bowl that would not be out of place (if perhaps not reaching as a high a mark in quality) at 165 Eaton Place, circa 1936 — the year in which the new Upstairs Downstairs is set. My silver plate Simpson Hall Miller & Co. sugar bowl and creamer are etched with a “J” monogram — which, as the letter J is not found in any of the configurations of my name, should have deterred me from buying them but didn’t, as apparently I am under the sway of the show’s set design to the exclusion of good sense.
Depressing allusions to Nazis, impending doom, and that wimp the Duke of Windsor aside, Upstairs Downstairs is a feast for the eyes. And better yet, the viewer has the chance to witness the transformation of the house from a wreck of a place at the beginning of the first episode into a glorious showplace that provides a visual banquet throughout the rest of the series. The house in Upstairs Downstairs is painted in fern greens and aqua blues, with beautiful wall coverings, lacquered surfaces, and chandeliers big enough to kill a roomful of cocktail party-goers — all if it enough to satisfy even Miles Redd, that Lion of Lacquer.
Well done, BBC & Masterpiece. May your union last another 40 years, may you continue to be fruitful and multiply, producing enough Downton Abbeys and Upstairs Downstairs and Jane Austen adaptations to last into my own dotage.