FARGO — Wait, I hear what you're saying: A movie about a group of 1920s British aristocrats in the Yorkshire countryside is nothing like the groovy reunion of 1970s California kids on their AstroTurf lawn. But hear me out.
First, we'll just gloss over the very obvious similarity between the angsty middle sisters in each show. "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" could just as well be "Mary, Mary, Mary."
While watching the "Downton Abbey" movie the other night, I was halfway hoping Lady Edith would haul off and hit Mary in the nose with a football. Alas, they're British, so they showed restraint.
No, the real similarities are in the feeling one gets while watching both highly anticipated shows.
When the Studio City, Calif., house used for exterior shots in "The Brady Bunch" went on the market in 2018 — for the first time in 50 years — what ensued was nothing short of a bidding frenzy. People wanting to grab (or capitalize) on a piece of American TV nostalgia scoffed at the $1.88 million price. It didn't seem to matter that the home, on the inside, was nothing like the set of the TV show.
After five decades of renovations, including paint and a privacy fence, the outside doesn't look quite like you remember it, either. Those bidding on the home included celebrities such as 'N Sync member Lance Bass. But the final winning bid went to HGTV, which paid $3.5 million for the home.
With the 50th anniversary of "The Brady Bunch" (1969-1974) set for later this month, you had to know the network had a big plan for its purchase. "A Very Brady Renovation" premiered last week to the highest ratings the network has ever seen — 8.1. million viewers.
The show reunites all six Brady kids (Robert Reed, who played dad Mike Brady, died in 1992, Florence Henderson, who played mom Carol Brady, died in 2016, and Ann B. Davis, who played Alice the maid, died in 2014) to completely overhaul the home to actually look like the set where the show was filmed.
That meant adding 2,000 square feet (including an extra floor) and scouring thrift stores and studio back lots to find furniture and props seen on the show (think: the horse in the living room or the "Mom always said 'don't play ball in the house'" vase or the big stuffed giraffe in the girls' room).
Like "The Brady Bunch," "Downton Abbey" was on television for a relatively short time (2010-2015), but generated a devoted mania among its fans around the world. So much so that it took only four years after the show left television for a full-length feature film to be released. The movie, which helps us catch up on the lives of the Crawley family since we last left them, officially premieres on Friday, Sept. 20, although sneak previews have played in theaters around the country. I saw the film last week with a few fellow "Downton" fans.
The movie is funnier than I remember the television show being, with the producers obviously making a point to give Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess more than her fair share of zingers. One scene involving the lovable, awkward footman Mr. Moseley serving the royal family is both cringeworthy and hilarious.
Speaking of dining at Downton, catch the new episode of "The Scoop with Tracy Briggs" on Inforum.com today to watch me try to figure out how to "Dine like a Crawley" with Dayna Del Val and her British husband, Andrew Mazz Marry, at Three Lyon's Pub in West Fargo. We even dressed the part. Special thanks to Applause Costume and Dancewear in Moorhead for my dress. The only thing missing was Mr. Moseley.
There is also less tragedy in Downton's movie compared to the TV version. Anna and Mr. Bates manage not to get arrested for murdering anyone, and only one ladies' maid is up to slightly dastardly deeds.
In all honesty, the movie's plot is a little thin. The storyline consists of several subplots, none of which are particularly riveting. But none of that matters because the feeling you get while watching the movie isn't about what is happening to drive the story. Like "A Very Brady Renovation," it's about relishing in the familiar. Hearing the opening theme music and watching your favorite characters in the setting you remember, whether that means the Brady six lining the stairs of their living room or Lord Grantham walking in the courtyard with his beloved lab Isis, is all that matters.
In a world where television viewers have thousands of choices to make from network to cable to streaming services, we find ourselves less likely to share common experiences around what we watch. In 1980, approximately 83 million people watched "Dallas" to find out who shot J.R. That record was beaten just three years later with the finale of "M.A.S.H.," when 106 million people tuned in to say goodbye to the 4077th. "M.A.S.H." remains the only scripted television show in the 10 most-watched broadcasts. (The other nine are all Super Bowls).
To put it in perspective, the much-talked about "Game of Thrones" finale in May only generated 13.6 million viewers for its initial airing.
These days, we are less likely than ever to gather around the watercooler at work and share a common viewing experience. We have so many choices, so many options in what will occupy our minds and our screens every night, that it can be completely overwhelming.
That's why movies like "Downton Abbey" and TV shows like "A Very Brady Renovation" are so welcome. They bring us back to what we have known and have loved in the past, whether it's 50 years ago or five. There is comfort in that. We might even excuse plot holes or less-than-riveting storylines if it means we can spend time with characters who take us away to another place and time. It's escapism, pure and simple.
Both "Downton Abbey" and "A Very Brady Renovation" are more like highly produced, very expensive family reunions sans the potato salad and drunk uncles — places where we can get reacquainted with loved ones we haven't seen lately. It doesn't matter that we're not members of the Brady or Crawley families or even that the Bradys and Crawleys are fictitious. It just matters that they take us away from it all and make us smile for a couple of hours.
The Bradys might call that "far out," the Crawleys "brilliant." Either way, it is entertainment worth watching. And I'll be first in line for the sequels.
If you go
What: "Downton Abbey" premiere and party
Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway N.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20
Info: "Downton Abbey" opens at 2:00 p.m. Friday. However, fans looking for a special experience should attend the Fargo Theatre's 7:30 p.m. screening on opening night. Prairie Public Broadcasting will be there with giveaways, photo opportunities and drawings for prizes. Attendees are encouraged to dress in "Downton Abbey"-inspired costumes for this celebratory occasion. Tickets are now on sale at the Fargo Theatre box office.