The Julian Fellowes circus arrives with all the usual pomp in turn-of-the-century New York, for what the Guardian’s Lucy Mangan calls “Brownstone Abbey”: lashings of crisp period sets and costumes, a plot drawn from social history, and an attitude of tart superiority gleefully lacking from Bridgerton. And this being the first season of what Fellowes would doubtless like to embed in the culture, there are a lot of characters and plot threads to grapple with, which some will relish, others bemoan. We are in fin-de-siecle New York, where old, entitled families bristle at the precociousness of upstart families arriving on the scene with industriousness, money, swagger, and not a care for creaking, extant hierarchies.
Two grand households on Fifth Avenue comprise on the one hand the Van Ryan spinsters Agnes (Christine Baranski, acid) and Ada (the ever-delectable Cynthia Nixon, very much not Sex and the City’s Miranda) and their new-to-town niece Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson), who clearly has ideas and loyalties of her own; and on the other, across the street, rail baron George Russell (Morgan Spector) and his scheming wife Bertha (Carrie Coon), set upon conquering this town through the fortunes of their children as much as their ample new riches.
TV audiences may be divided into those who simply cannot resist the rich if naff box of chocolates which is Downton, and those immune to its charms. Well, says Mangan, ladling out just a single star (ouch!), “Boost your vaccinations, don whatever PPE you have to hand – the new variant Julian Fellowes has breached our shores”. James Jackson in The Times gives it four, revelling in the “snobbery and society balls, waspish aunts and snooty servants.” The Independent’s Ed Cumming finds it “as lavish and entertaining as you’d expect – but lacking the humour and charm of its predecessor”. And in The New York Times, Mike Hale gives as good as these Machiavellian socialites: “This is Henry James and Edith Wharton territory, and Fellowes doesn’t shy away from comparisons… It’s a muddled and slapdash portrait, though — a thin gloss on its superior sources that consistently dips into caricature.” This is nonetheless, for many, a relishable round of high tea on the Upper East Side. First shown January 2022.