Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Why some TV characters are better off dead

I have two words for Lena Dunham: "Downton Abbey."

Why some TV characters are better off dead

Allison Williams and Christopher Abbott in Season 2 finale of HBO´s "Girls"
Allison Williams and Christopher Abbott in Season 2 finale of HBO's "Girls"

 I have two words for Lena Dunham: “Downton Abbey.”

The creator and star of HBO’s “Girls” reportedly has a problem on her hands: Christopher Abbott, who plays Charlie, the boyfriend with whom Marnie (Alllison Williams) was so abruptly reunited in the Season 2 finale, has left the show, apparently just as abruptly, as work begins on Season 3.

“Abruptly,” at least is how the New York Post describes Abbott’s departure, to which it attributes creative differences with Dunham. For all I know, there’s a far less interesting explanation. Maybe Abbott’s been abducted by aliens.

In any case, “Girls” will have to explain Charlie’s absence somehow, especially after that big rom-com scene he and Marnie had in the season-ender.

Which brings us to “Downton Abbey,” whose own Season 3 ended in the extremely abrupt departure of one of the show’s main characters.

(If you still don’t know what happened in the season finale of “Downton” — which aired in the U.S. nearly two months ago — and are wary of spoilers, you really should have stopped reading after the first sentence. Consider this your final warning.)

As Julian Fellowes, the show’s creator, explained it to the New York Times, Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley, had refused to return for even a few episodes a season. (Actors in Britain don’t sign on for seven-year stints.)

So Matthew had to be killed. Even if it meant he’d be dying in the same season as Lady Sybil (played by Jessica Brown Findlay, who’d also chosen to leave the show). Even if he and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) had just had a baby.

As Fellowes told the Times:

“When an actor playing a servant wants to leave, there isn’t really a problem – [that character gets] another job. With members of the family, once they’re not prepared to come back for any episodes at all, then it means death. Because how believable would it be that Matthew never wanted to see the baby, never wanted to see his wife? And was never seen again at the estate that he was the heir to? So we didn’t have any option, really. I was as sorry as everyone else.”

I’m not sure how sorry Dunham will be to see Charlie go, but go he must. If only because Marnie would look fabulous in black. (With maybe a small veil?)

And if he can’t be dispatched in an auto accident, a la Matthew — because “Girls” has already had one major character hit by a car — there’s always the subway.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Fellowes, who’s also an actor, hadn’t learned his lesson about permanent exits while working on an earlier show.

About the time “Downton” was crushing the hearts of Matthew-and-Mary lovers, I was on vacation. Which is the best excuse I can offer for having crawled down the Netflix rabbit hole with “Monarch of the Glen,” an old BBC series set in a crumbling Scottish castle in which Fellowes had a recurring role as a prosperous neighbor, Lord Kilwillie.

For the first few years of the seven-season series (Netflix inexplicably only streams the first six, though the show ended in 2005), Alastair Mackenzie starred as Archie MacDonald, whose somewhat dotty father, Hector (Richard Briers), signs over ownership of the family’s heavily mortgaged estate, which he must find a way to turn around.

Archie being single, a fair amount of the plot in those first few seasons involved the women who came and went in Archie’s life, until, in Season 4, he married the housekeeper, Lexie (Dawn Steele) after a courtship that made Matthew and Mary’s look peaceful.

The following season, Mackenzie left the show, but Steele didn’t.

So Archie was first sent off to climb a mountain in Nepal with his sister Lizzie (a minor characer who was played by three different actresses over the course of the series). Later, he emigrated to New Zealand, where he opened a winery.

Archie’s departure made for some awkward plotting, particularly in Season 6, when Archie’s half-brother and the left-behind Lexie began to fall for each other.

Fellowes, who departed the show himself for a couple of seasons — his character decided to travel —-returned to play a key role in the show’s final season, but Mackenzie never did.

Looking back, I’m guessing the writers wish they’d pushed him off that mountain while they had the chance.

Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
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Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
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