So full disclaimer of bias: I’m crazy for costume dramas, I love pretty people walking around in pretty clothes saying pretty things, and I’m a history buff, with a particular adoration of stories about Britain in the Edwardian and post-Edwardian eras. So unsurprisingly, I’m a sucker for Downton Abbey and all its trappings. I also grew up on Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and as an adult I’m in love with Great Performances, Antiques Roadshow, American Experience, Masterpiece, and all the other wonders of PBS. So I was very happy to see how Downton Abbey not only became the most-watched series in the history of PBS (45 years!), but a television colossus in its own right, with people tuning in all around the world (including Russia, Sweden, South Korea, and the Middle East) to the tune of tens of millions of viewers; the sixth season opened to 9.9 million viewers in the U.S. alone (Season Six of Game of Thrones, for example, opened to 7.9 million). The show’s viewership crossed lines of age, race, economic status, education level, and prompted people who previously didn’t even know what their own PBS television channel was to follow the story with the kind of rabid fandom that most had until then only exhibited for mainstream TV. It brought millions of new eyes and new interest to PBS, and on this point, I am especially pleased.
Out now is a box set of the entire Downton Abbey series, which in addition to all 52 episodes includes over thirteen hours(!) of extras. Notable bonus features include the 90-minute documentary The Story of Downton Abbey, which traces the storyline through the entire series and treats the viewer to behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, Downton Abbey Creators’ Favorite Scenes, where Julian Fellowes (writer/creator) and Gareth Neame (executive producer) give commentary on their favorite scenes of the series, Supercuts, nine mini features on themes from the show (such as weddings, awesome stuff the Dowager Countess says, etc.), and The Manners of Downton Abbey/More Manners of Downton Abbey, two specials hosted by Alastair Bruce (the show’s historical advisor) examining the customs and protocols of the turn of the century and the Jazz Age. Additional extras include Great Houses with Julian Fellowes and Character Documentaries. The set is available on Amazon on DVD and Blu-ray for $74.99 and $89.99 respectively (that pricing divides out to around $1.44 per episode on DVD and $1.73 on Blu-ray). All episodes (and The Manners of Downton Abbey special) are available for free streaming to Amazon Prime members, but if you’re a big fan (or gifting for a big fan) and want to have all the awesomeness of the bonus features (remember: thirteen hours), consider getting the set.