The Ultimate Guide to Binge Watching ‘Downton Abbey’ as a Couple

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Downton Abbey

Season four of Downton Abbey premieres on PBS this Sunday, January 5 at 9 p.m. EST. Here’s why you should binge-watch it with your significant other.

If you’re history buffs (the series begins in April 1912), Anglophiles, or simply enjoy mooning over exquisitely beautiful sets and costumes, you will enjoy the pants trousers off of Downton Abbey. In fact, it’s hard to believe you haven’t binged on it already.

Downton is both the most popular drama ever to air on PBS and, costing more than a million pounds (that’s $8 quadrillion) an hour to film, the most expensive television program in British history. The first two seasons earned 27 Emmy nominations, the most of any international TV show. More recently, the critical tide has turned against Downton, and not without good reason. You should still watch it. The backlash to the backlash has already started, and the early episodes are perfect as pizza. Even the lesser ones, like bad pizza, are still pretty all right.

What’s the deal: Matthew Crawley, a forward-thinking, unpretentious lawyer, unexpectedly becomes the heir to the Earl of Grantham. He arrives at opulent Downton Abbey (which, insanely, exists in real life, as Hampshire’s Highclere Castle) and experiences a culture clash with his cousins, dignified aristocrats who spend most of their time planning formal dinners, eating formal dinners, and exchanging meaningful looks at formal dinners. Maggie Smith’s crotchety Dowager Countess slash grandma is one of the best – and the most terrifying – characters on TV today.

But at least as interesting as the nobles upstairs are the commoners downstairs, a fleet of servants who clean for them, cook for them, wait on them, dress and undress them, and even iron their newspapers. Each episode is intricately woven with many small, rich stories and poignant romances.

Why you two should watch: In the same way that any character bold enough to have sex in a horror movie can expect a swift and violent death, when a Downton Abbey character falls in love, they are doomed for tragedy. At its core, Downton is a soap opera for people who wouldn’t be caught dead watching one (see also: Mad Men). I mean that in the best way possible.

Where to find it online: You can stream the first three seasons on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Episodes are also available for purchase on iTunes.

Time investment: Low to medium. Only 24 episodes have aired in the U.S. so far (plus two Christmas specials), so you can finish Downton in little more than a day with determination and a Ritalin prescription.


Addictiveness: Medium. While you won’t be able to stop yourself from plowing through the first season, the pace tends to lag a bit as the series progresses.

Episodes of note: Both of the feature-length Christmas specials. The loss of a beloved character in season 3 made me cry nasty, thick boogers all over my boyfriend’s sweater. The third episode of the first season features a shocking, game-changing death, as did the final moments of the third season – although the latter was made a little less shocking by, bah humbug, real-world news of the performer’s departure for other projects.

Favorite characters: The Dowager Countess. Carson, the stern but soft-hearted butler. Thomas, the evil footman.

Least favorite characters: Lady Edith, Lord Grantham’s whiny, lonely middle child. Thomas, the evil footman.

The Infidelity Index: High. If you or your partner have a tendency to Netflix cheat on one another, this show will be dangerous for you. The fourth season has already aired in its entirety on ITV in the UK and could be easily downloaded online, for those who aren’t squeamish about piracy. Beware.

The Sexytime Quotient: Low. There’s very little sex to be had on Downton, and when there is, the consequences are typically disastrous. (Ahem, the third episode of the first season.)


Celebrity fans: Jimmy Fallon. Diddy. Stephen Colbert.

Please don’t call it: Downtown Abbey. Downton Arby’s, however, is acceptable.

The perfect accompaniment: A tawny port, plus the fanciest frozen pigs in blankets your Costco membership can buy.

Watch if you love: Gosford Park. Upstairs, Downstairs. Call the Midwife. Like, the past and shit.

Avoid at all costs if: Your ex perished on the Titanic and you’re still not over it.

Image via Carnival Films