Venturing Beyond Downton Abbey: 5 More Shows Downton Fans Will Love

Downton Abbey is a fun show. A fun, glitzy, occasionally outlandish show that I would happily watch on a loop for the rest of my days if only there weren’t so many other shows vying for my attention. If the ratings for the season three premiere are any indication, I suspect other Downton Abbey fans feel the same way. One thing is clear, we’re all enthralled by the Crawley family and their downstairs counterparts– even when they’re getting up to truly ridiculous things like falling for their presumed dead and now (maybe) miraculously alive, but horribly disfigured cousin (I’m looking at you Edith).

Unfortunately for us, each season of Downton Abbey clocks in at a mere seven to eight episodes. Worse yet, we Americans (at least those of us who aren’t cheaters) are forced to wait an inordinate amount of time between seasons to get our next fix of classy gowns and Maggie Smith’s snarking. Even now when we’re in the midst of a new season it’s hard not to look ahead to the not-so-distant future when Mr. Carson will once again politely usher us out of Downton and back into the cruel, uncivilized television landscape.

What’s a Downton-starved fan to do? Find another enthralling series to tide us over until season four, of course. Don’t worry, the Crawley family won’t mind us stepping out on them. As the Dowager Countess says, “Nothings succeeds like excess.”

Below I have assembled a list of shows that have the potential to fill the enormous Downton-shaped hole that develops in our hearts at the end of each season.

The Hour

If you find yourself wishing Downton Abbey had less soap and more edge, then BBC America’s The Hour is the show for you. The ’50s era drama centers on the fast-paced, often dangerous behind-the-scenes goings on at the fictional BBC news show The Hour. Led by super producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), the team behind The Hour consists of the charismatic Hector Madden (Dominic West), news-obsessed Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) and news writer Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor).

The series immerses itself in the British culture of the ’50s with stunning sets and stylish clothes that will have you wishing The Doctor would swing by and offer to drop you off in London circa 1950. The Hour is, quite simply, the most beautiful show on television (yes, it even surpasses the magnificent opulence of Downton). It’s real selling point is its sharp storytelling though. Each of its first two seasons featured an overarching mystery alongside a cadre of compelling romantic and personal stories. If you thought Mary and Matthew’s courtship was torturous, just wait until you meet Bel and Freddie.

Bomb Girls

Bomb Girls is a Canadian import (it airs on the Reelz channel stateside) set in a munitions factory at the start of World War II. Like Downton, the series features a terrific lineup of strong female characters, all of whom find themselves fighting against gender issues and stereotypes. There is Gladys (Jodi Balfour), who in Downton terms is part-Mary, part-Sybil during her wearing-pants-at-the-dinner-table days. Gladys is the show’s gateway character to the world of the factory. Then we have Betty (Ali Liebert), a tough, but guarded woman who has a crush on her sweet best friend Kate (Charlotte Hegele), and Lorna (Meg Tilly), the floor matron who has the unenviable task of keeping all of the workers in line.

The series specializes in drama. The first season featured a horrific factory accident, a torrid affair, assumed identities, family clashes and an unwanted pregnancy, and it was only six episodes long. The constant barrage of angst and crises can be overwhelming at times, but the same can be said of Downton‘s everything and the kitchen sink storytelling philosophy.

The Borgias

The Borgias The Borgia Bull Season 2 Premiere (9)

The Crawleys’ bourgeois lifestyle may seem decadent to our 21st century eyes, but no one does excess better than the Borgias clan. Showtime’s historical fiction series is downright hedonistic, which makes it best suited for Downton fans who were frustrated by the fade-to-black after Mary and Matthew finally got themselves hitched. The Borgias is full of lust, power plays and naked Jeremy Irons, but if those things don’t appeal to you it also happens to feature lush visuals, complex family dynamics and the gorgeous Francois Arnaud as the eternally tortured Cesare Borgias.

The show will be entering its third season in April, which gives you plenty of time to marathon the first two.

Call the Midwife

If The Borgias is ideal for fans who wish Downton was a little more risque, then Call the Midwife should satisfy those who like the series just as it is. Like Downton, Call the Midwife is one of PBS’s Masterpiece offerings, and the series is as soothing as a warm cup of mid-afternoon tea. It follows four young midwives working out of a nursing convent in 1950s East London as they learn how to practice their trade and become part of a community.

The series’ breakout star is the fabulous British comic Miranda Hart, whose Camilla “Chummy” Fortescue-Cholmondeley-Browne provides Call the Midwife with the lion’s share of its considerable charms.

British Miniseries

I’m a cheating a bit with this one, but during the long hiatus between season two and season three of Downton, I found that the best cure for Downton-withdrawals was a steady diet of British miniseries. PBS is usually good at bringing over a nice selection of classy period pieces from across the pond (Birdsong is a recent favorite), but other channels are getting in on the act as well. The Sundance Channel recently imported the excellent two-part spy drama Restless (starring Michelle Dockery and Hayley Atwell), and HBO will be offering up the five-part WWI drama Parade’s End starring Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch in February.

Don’t be afraid to delve into the past either. If for some reason you have never the 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, then I recommend queuing it up for February 18th, the day after Downton‘s third season finale. Trust me, nothing quells the fresh pain of a hiatus like a sopping wet Colin Firth.


Now it’s your turn Downton Abbey fans: what shows would you recommend to your fellow Crawley family aficionados?

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