A Bag Girl Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving Traditions

Because I am a huge fan of Broadway, I have watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade for years because Broadway frequently features into the parade’s yearly lineup. Musical numbers from shows such as Wicked and Hairspray are some of the highlights from past parades I can remember off the top of my head. Broadway stars like Cheyenne Jackson and Jonathan Groff have also made appearances. You just have to shift through all the annoying talking heads and screaming crowds.

Today when I tuned into the parade, the first thing I saw was a filmed performance of a song from the musical Waitress which I was in and out of because I have no interest in Waitress.

Cue the usual giant balloons shaped like cartoon characters (Pikachu from Pokémon was always my favorite), marching bands, pop stars on floats, and two minutes of content before five minutes of commercials. As usual, I just want the talking heads to shut up. Imagine being a small town high school marching band or cheerleading team who finally makes it to the big time and their entire community tunes in the watch them, only to have two morons talk through it. People want to watch the parade not listen to idiots yammer about the parade.

Christopher Jackson from Hamilton made an appearance talking about a television show he’s on right now. Other Hamilton cast members Leslie Odom jr. and Mandy Gonzales also showed up. Odom was riding the Sesame Street float and Gonzales was also talking with the heads.

The month or so between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of my favorite time of year and the arrival of Santa Claus at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the perfect way to kick off this most joyous of seasons. I confess that I felt rather emotional when Santa showed up this year.

As an unashamed dog lover, watching the National Dog Show is one of my best loved Thanksgiving traditions. My mom and I were squealing over how cute the dogs are.

My favorite in the hound group was a whippet named Anna. The announcer said all of the dogs in her litter were named after characters from Downton Abbey which was what made her my favorite. Anna took home the prize for the best hound dog.

My favorite herding dog was an Old English Sheepdog named Sofia and she won her category.

The dog I was rooting for in the working category was the Samoyed because that’s such a beautiful breed of dog but the Portuguese Water Dog won instead.

I was rooting for the West Highland White in the terrier group because my aunt owns a dog in that breed. Louis, the American Staffordshire Terrier won and I was glad of the because the announcer was talking about how Louis’s owner brings him to visit V.A. hospitals. Louis was ecstatic when he won and was jumping up and down.

Chevalier King Charles Spaniels and Japanese chins are among my favorite dog breeds, so I wanted either of them to win the Toy Category but I was also rooting for the Yorkshire terrier since another of my aunts owns one of them. The Brussels Griffon took home the prize.

My mom said that the Red and White Irish Setter was pretty and that one became my favorite in the Sporting Category. Mom then said that I should choose from the ones the show walking around the ring because those are the ones with the best chance of winning. So I choose the golden retriever because golden retrievers are perhaps my favorite dog breed, and this particular dog, Gunner, is also a therapy dog but the springer spaniel won.

My favorite non-sporting dogs were the Dalmatian, Seven, the Boston Terrier, Prince, and French bulldog, who won with the Dalmatian in second place.

Our two favorites to win best in show were Anna the Whippet and Babe the French Bulldog, who appeared to be the frontrunners and audience favorites but the Brussels Griffon, Newton, won best in show.

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Bag Girl Reviews: Reign Season 4

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Perhaps the most egregious television shows I can think of is the C.W series Reign, based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. The story lines are cliched and melodramatic and give only the slightest nod to the history it is supposed to be based on, the acting is hoaky and terrible, the costumes range from looking like tacky prom dresses to looking like school play costumes. It’s characters behave like your typical C.W style spoiled brats and it’s thin veneer of political drama comes second to bed hopping and petulant rivalries. But the strangest thing is that I got caught up in the show and have a strange soft spot for it.  It is my guiltiest of guilty pleasures. As an aspiring writer and a  lover of history who appreciates historical accuracy and artistic integrity, enjoying this pandering trash makes me feel like a hypocrite. If shows like Downton Abbey, Poldark, and Outlander are like a fine chocolate truffle, Reign is the television equivalent of eating a dozen pixie stixs. You know it is crap and bad for you and that there are better things out there, but sometimes you just need the hollow rush.

In this final season, Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane) struggles to find her footing as the Catholic ruler of Protestant Scotland and makes a politically advantageous to Lord Darnley (Will Kemp) who tries to undermine her authority as queen. Her rivalry with Elizabeth I of England (Rachel Skarsten) escalates to an outright grudge match. Meanwhile back in France, Catherine de Medici (Megan Follows) tries to protect her increasingly unstable son Charles IX (Spencer MacPherson).

Poor Adelaide Kane is completely out of her depth as Mary, Queen of Scots. She is trying to be a dignified and queenly figure but comes across more as an overindulged little girl. Rachel Skarsten reads as more of a Regina George style alpha bitch in the role of Elizabeth I than the brilliant and pragmatic politician Elizabeth really was. Both are presented as strong, independent women in a man’s world but, in reality, are little more than the bitchy combatants in a soap opera catfight.

The best performance is given by Megan Follows as Catherine de Medici who is brilliant and steals the show.

There are a lot of bad things you can say about Reign. It is silly fluff and emblematic of the shallowness of the entertainment industry, mostly in how it thinks it needs to sacrifice authenticity in order to pander to the lowest common denominator. My opinion is that if you are going to make a film or television series involving some sort of history, the people who are most likely going to watch it are those who are interested in history, and you should not alienate that demographic. There is a terrible misconception that history is boring and not relevant to people today and this is not a mid set we should encourage or pander to. I find that history is fascinating enough without being turned into a costume ball version of Pretty Little Liars.

Bag Girl Reviews: The Handmaid’s Tale (2017)

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I saw a lot of hype for Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, a 1985 dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood. The production was praised for being timely as well as high quality and the premise sounded interesting, so when I signed up for hulu, I decided to watch it.

In the wake of a series of terrorist attacks, a religious inspired military dictatorship has taken over North America, which is now called The Republic of Gilead. Offred (Elisabeth Moss), a member of a class of women known as “handmaids” who are forced to bear children for barren families, lives with Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes)  and his jealous and vicious wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). She once had a husband, a daughter, and a job but now lives in world where women’s rights have been taken away and she is treated as breeding stock.  Despite being a world where men have all the power, it is the women who steal the show. Elisabeth Moss is brilliant as the relatable everywoman, Offred, who decides that she has had enough (as one of the show’s slogans says “she will bare no more”). Yvonne Strahovski is both frightening and sympathetic as the ice queen Serena Joy.  Alexis Bledel and Madeline Brewer play the small but haunting roles of Ofglen and Janine: a lesbian handmaid who receives a genital mutilation because of her sexual orientation and a mentally unstable handmaid who finally loses it after her child is taken away. Both are two of the shows most resonant scenes.

Part of the reason why the story is so scary is because it taps into fears women have: having their children taken away from them (the reason why Offred and the other handmaids have been chosen is because they have been able to bare children in the past) and being stripped of all their rights and self respect. I agree that this series is timely in a climate of terrorist attacks and conservative backlash. Offred’s “we didn’t wake up” speech is particularly chilling.  It is not a great series but also, perhaps, and important one.

Bag Girl Reviews Harlots

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*** Warning: Spoilers***

Harlots is a Hulu series that I have been hearing a lot about through the period drama related social media I follow, mainly the blog Frock Flicks. My interested was piqued but since I did not have Hulu, I got a late start in watching it. This was what made me give in and finally subscribe to Hulu. 

The series follows Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton), an upwardly mobile brothel owner in 18th century London trying to provide for her two daughters: Charlotte (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay, London’s most sought after courtesan, and Lucy, whose innocence attracts a number of sadistic men. Margaret’s social climbing provokes a feud with Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville) a high class madam and Margaret’s former employer, who steals the entire series with her bird-like menace. Manville’s performance as Lydia Quigley is something watching a vicious parrot.

One interesting thing about the series is that it includes elements usually missing in your typical costume drama: lesbianism and mixed race relationships. The slums and brothels of 18th century London are shown as a diverse place which caters to all tastes. Margaret Wells is in a common-law marriage with William North, a free black man, and they have a mixed race son. Amelia Scanwell, the daughter of a puritanical religious campaigner, has a lesbian romance with a local prostitute. It is also noteworthy for its depiction of prostitution, one of the few professions available to an 18th century woman where she could rise to wealth and prominence but at the risk of abuse and condemnation. The prostitutes in the series are not portrayed as pathetic victims or vice-ridden jezebels but rather as women using the few opportunities offered them to try to survive and get ahead. Whoredom is both glamorous and degrading.  

The rivalry between Margaret Wells and Lydia Quigley is the most interesting part of the series. Other storylines such as Charlotte’s romance with an Irish gigolo named Daniel  (Jessica Brown Findlay in another relationship with a hunky irishman), and the murder of a noble client in Margaret’s brothel do not grab you as much. You do not really care about what happens to Charlotte and Daniel but you want to see Margaret take Quigley down. I love where the character of Lucy, who starts off as a reluctant prostitute and is afraid to go off as the kept woman of a wealthy man, is going. In the last episode, she is taken under the wing of  Nancy (Kate Fleetwood) a friend and neighbor of her mother who works as a dominatrix and taught the art of flagellation. Lucy returns to her mother and tells her “I’m ready now.” My prediction is that in the next season, Lucy, who serves as one of the series’s defactio ingenues, will become a dominatrix like Nancy.

Harlots has little of the stodginess which people all too often associate with period dramas but does not feel historically inauthentic or untrue to the time period. There is a fine balance between  “this is a different time period” and “and these are understandable and relatable people.” It is accessible and appealing to the general audience but does not feel dumbed down.

A Review of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return

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I grew up with the cult hit series Mystery Science Theater 3000. My dad used to watch it in ‘90s and later would rent episodes through Netflix for us to watch. Both of us were excited when we learned that Netflix was making a reboot of the series.

Mystery Science Theater 3000, also known as MST3K,  is perhaps responsible for putting the pastime of mocking and ironically enjoying terrible movies in the popular consciousness and inspiring acts such as The Nostalgia Critic, who I am also a big fan of. I trace my ironic enjoyment of bad movies and the entertainment I get from listening to people make fun of them back to my childhood exposure to MST3K.

The series involves a poor schmuck named Joel Robinson (played by the show’s creator Joel Hodgson) who is trapped on spacecraft known as The Satellite of Love by a mad scientist and forced to watch terrible films as part of an experient. Joel shares the Satellite of Love with a trio of wisecracking robots, Crow, Tom Servo, and Gypsy who join him in tearing these turkeys apart.  I recently discovered a Youtube channel which posts episodes of the original series with annotations which explain the references which is useful for someone my age who may not get them.

Netflix did a great job updating the series for a new generation with MST3K: The Return. . The new series captures the spirit of the original without feeling like a cheap attempt to make lightning strike twice. Joel Robinson is replaced by Jonah Heston (played by Jonah Ray) as the new test subject on the Satellite of Love. Ray is less of a poor schmuck than an ironic loser hipster, which fits the reboot’s more millennial tone. Jonah’s tormentors are Kinga Forrester and Mike, TV’s Son of Tv’s Frank (played by Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt), the daughter and son respectively of MST3K’s original baddies, Dr. Forrester and Tv’s Frank.  Mike’s hopeless, unrequited crush on his greedy businesswoman lady-love is hilarious and Day and Oswalt are among the highlights of the series. With references to Hamilton and Beyonce’s Lemonade, the jokes are just as pop cultural and zeitgeisty as they were in the original, but I atleast I did not need annotations.

MST3K: The Return manages to be true to what made its predecessor so beloved while still being its own thing. I am looking forward to, hopefully, upcoming seasons.

 

 

Bag Girl Reviews: Tuck Everlasting Film and Musical

***Warning: Spoilers***

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To start off, I did not grow up reading this book. My dad starting reading it to me back in 2002 when the movie came out but we never finished it. But looking back I now wish we had because nowadays I’m kind of obsessed with this story after my college student’s childhood nostalgia made me want to watch the movie again and give the book another try. This also coincided with the news that a musical version was coming out. It has since become one of my favorite stories.

Tuck Everlasting (2016) 

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I was excited about this musical coming out but my hopes were dashed with the news that it closed after roughly a month on Broadway after receiving mixed reviews. The couple or so reviews that I read said that the musical was not particularly bad but was not destined to be a great success. Curious as to why this musical I was so excited for was such a big flop, I bought the soundtrack off of itunes and gave it a listen. The music was very good, not quite Hamilton, but I enjoyed it.

The story follows that of the original book. Judging from the book’s plot, the songs, and details I gleaned off of the internet, the story goes as followed: In 1808, Angus Tuck, his wife Mae and their two sons Miles and Jesse drink from a spring whose waters give eternal life to whoever drinks from it (Prologue). Years later in 1893, eleven year old Winnie Foster wants to get out of the house, something she has not been able to do in a while because her family is in mourning for her father, and go to a traveling fair which has come to town. The whole “I’m spunky and bored with my restrictive Victorian life” part of Winnie’s character works better when she is a little girl than it does in the 2002 movie, where she is a teenager who really should grow the fuck up but I’ll get to that later. A line I find funny from the big opening number “Live Like This” in which Winnie describes her boredom and her longing for free, goes something like this “I wish I had wings, I’d look good with a pair. If wings are too much at least give me the pair,” or at least that’s how I heard it. A lyric video corrected later me and it most likely says “give me the fair” but I had a chuckle the first time because it sounded like Winnie, like most eleven year old girls, longs for the day she has boobs. My suspicion that they were trying to add some boob innuendo is still strong. But enough of my filthy minded ramblings. Meanwhile, Mae Tuck reunites with her sons, the grumpy Miles and the happy-go-lucky Jesse, played by the twee but endearing Andrew Keenan Bolger, after a ten year separation. Also, the man in the yellow suit, the barker of the traveling fair , has come to come looking for something unspecified. Winnie, after bringing a toad into the house, is not allowed to go to the fair and decides to rebel by running off to explore the woods outside of her house (Good Girl Winnie Foster Parts 1 and 2.) There she finds Jesse Tuck drinking from the spring. He tries to prevent her from drinking as well and distracts her from her curiosity by getting her to climb trees with him (Top of the World.)  Jesse’s mother Mae and brother Miles take Winnie away with them because they fear she knows about the spring.

Because of Winnie’s disappearance, the town constable and his bumbling trainee deputy Hugo are sent to look for her (Hugo’s First Case parts 1 and 2.)  The constable and Hugo, specifically Hugo, serve as comic relief. Back at the Tuck house, Mae, Miles and Jesse explain to Winnie about the spring and how it has prevented them from aging and dying (The Story of the Tucks) and decided to keep her with them until they know they can trust her not to reveal their secret .  Mae reminisces to her sons about the day she and their father fell in love (My Most Beautiful Day). Winnie grows fond of the Tucks, specifically Jesse, who brings her to the fair disguised as a boy (Partners in Crime.) The two realize that they are kindred spirits and perhaps meant to be together. Jesse asks Winnie to drink from the spring when she turns seventeen, the age he was when he drank and therefore has stayed, so they can be married and see the world together (Seventeen.)  This is the closest thing there is to a romantic scene, although obviously they do not kiss or anything because someone who is supposed to be seventeen kissing an eleven year old is icky and they probably were not allowed to because Sarah Charles Lewis, who played Winnie, was eleven/twelve years old at the time and Andrew Keenan Bolger was thirty. This scene would be creepy if it, and Andrew Keenan Bolger, were not so goddamn adorable. But the man in the yellow suit overhears them and learns about the spring. He gloats about how he’s going to use the spring water to make a fortune (Everything’s Golden.)

Winnie decides to accept Jesse’s offer and anxiously awaits the day she can drink from the spring ( Seventeen Reprise.)  Miles tells her about his tragic backstory, which was alluded to in The Story of the Tucks.  He was once married and had a son but his wife left him and took the son away when she found out about the Tuck family immortality (Time.) This is why Miles is such a grump. Part of the reason why Jesse wants Winnie to drink from the spring is so that he would not have to spend his eternal life alone (Time Quartet.)  The plot thickens when the man in the yellow suit gets the rights to the forest from the Foster family in exchange for telling them their daughter’s whereabouts. The Constable and Hugo decide that he is a scumbag (Everything’s Golden Reprise/You Can’t Trust a Man.)  

Angus Tuck takes Winnie for a ride in a rowboat and shares his belief that death is a part of life and should not be feared with the implication that she should not drink from the spring and live a normal life instead (The Wheel.) While getting water from the spring to give to Winnie, Jesse is confronted by the man in the yellow suit, who tells him that he was been searching for the Tucks for years after hearing stories about them from his grandmother, who was told them by a friend (Miles’s ex wife.) He offers the Tuck family a chance to be in on his scheme to sell the water and threatens Winnie when they refuse to let him have the spring. Mae pistol whips him with a shotgun to protect Winnie, thus killing him and being in danger of being hung for murder (The Story of the Man in the Yellow Suit.) After the Tucks break Mae out of jail, Jesse gives Winnie a vial of the spring water to drink when she grows up. She ponders whether or not she should drink it, eventually deciding to live a short but full instead (Everlasting.) Winnie grows up, marries Deputy Hugo, and goes on to live a long and fulfilling life. Many years later, the Tucks return and find Winnie’s gravestone (The Wheel (Finale).) This is one of the big tearjerk moments especially when Jesse starts singing a reprise of The Wheel. 

From what I’ve seen of this musical, it is very enjoyable and the performances are very good. The performance of Sarah Charles Lewis was particularly impressive considering she is so young and her relationship with Andrew Keenan Bolger’s Jesse is super cute. Terrance Hill as The Man in the Yellow Suit is a blast to watch. Though I do think Tuck Everlasting was anything ground breaking or spectacular, there’s nothing glaringly bad about and  I think it deserved a fairer chance. 

Tuck Everlasting (2002) 

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Despite having a decent 6.7 on IMDB, this film kind of has a bad reputation for straying from the source material and supposedly turning a deep and poignant story into a trite teen romance. I enjoyed this movie growing up and still do but I admit that it is silly at some points and I perfectly understand why someone would not like it, especially if they were very attached to the book. Perhaps I was more forgiving because I was the target audience and did not have an attachment to the original story.

The word I would use to describe this movie is pretty: The cinematography and music are beautiful with lots of squirly shots of fields and trees and the lilting, wistful tune of Mae Tuck’s musicbox being the central musical theme.  The acting in the film is decent, there’s no spectacular performances but the actors are all believable. Ben Kingsley is delightfully hammy and creepy as The Man in the Yellow Suit despite looking like Curious George’s owner’s evil hippy uncle. The dialogue is more than a little cheesy at points but it fits the movie’s whimsical tone.

One of this version’s biggest divisions from the original is that they aged up the character of Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel) making her fifteen instead of ten or eleven, as she is the book. The way this character is established in the film sets me up to hate her. She’s the cliched spunky period heroine who’s ahead of her time and feels stifled by her upper class life that you’ve seen a million times. She mopes around, complains about having to wear a corset (bet you haven’t heard that one before), and does things like play baseball with a bunch of urchins which I guess is supposed to impress us with her pluck. There’s nothing really to her in the beginning besides being bored and whiney, which is the way most teenaged girls are, I know I was. Winnie does get more likable when she meets the Tucks and loosens up and all of the cliches do not piss me off as much as they might have.

I guess the reason why they made Winnie older is so that her relationship with Jesse (Jonathan Jackson) could be more of a romance and this romance is the focus of the film. In the book, the focus is on her connection to the entire Tuck family and Jesse is more of an older brother figure, though Winnie does have a bit of a crush on him and they do have a special bond. Jesse even asks Winnie to drink from the magical spring when she grows up so they can be married. Jesse in the film version always kind of reminded me of Jack from Titanic, the manic pixie dream boy who cheers up the upper class heroine who’s unhappy with her life. There’s this scene where Jesse and Winnie are talking about the Eiffel Tower and Winnie says that she would ride up to the top in an elevator but Jesse says that if she went with him, she would have to take off her shoes and walk up. For years I thought that that exchange was between Jack and Rose. As hokey and pandering as the relationship between Jesse and Winnie is, it is still super adorable.

The relationship between Jesse and his older brother Miles is also interesting in this version. They are very different, Miles is sullen and cynical while Jesse is carefree and  up for a good time, and Miles is always on Jesse’s case, especially in regards to bringing Winnie into their lives and possibly exposing the secret of their family’s immortality then later falling in love with Winnie but you can see that Miles does not want his brother to get hurt the way he was hurt. Miles always reminded me of my older brother Tom, because Tom was always the grump of the family.

There’s a lot in this movie that is silly and cliche but that it is outweighed by how much I love it. If you want to watch something that’s cute, magical, and romantic, and you’re in a very forgiving mood, I would definitely recommend it.

Fun Fact: The town used for modern day Treegap is called Berlin Maryland; my grandparents used to have a vacation home near there.

Downton Abbey Season 6: Nice Girls Don’t Always Finish Last

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If you are like me, then you are mourning the passing of the beloved PBS drama, Downton Abbey. This series and I have had a complicated relationship for the past six seasons. I friend of mine recommended it to me back in 2012 and it took me another couple of years to actually start watching it, and it has since become a Sunday night tradition for my mother and I. When I found out that the series was ending, my mental health depended on the outcome of the final season more than it probably should have.

I have to be honest and say that I felt like Downton Abbey was on a downward spiral since season three or four. Some of the plot lines dragged on for longer than they should have, for example, the whole “who killed Mr. Green” story. I was beginning to get sick of three seasons of “who will Lady Mary marry?”. The whole love triangle between her, Lord Gillingham, and Mr. Blake droned on for two seasons, only to have her dump Gillingham but still toy with him, Blake realize that she isn’t worth it, and her moving on to the next studmuffin to fall for her icy, hard to get act.

Other elements I felt were rushed, such as the new romances for Mary and Edith, which were not as fleshed out as they could have been. But Bertie was a total sweetheart and Henry was pretty easy on the eyes and I was happy for Edith when she got her millionaire marquis and not so much for Mary. One of season six’s biggest weaknesses was that the resolution of the conflict between Mary and Edith was a bit rushed; a lifetime of bickering and rivalry usually doesn’t end with a simple dinner reservation. I also felt that Mary should have had to do more to win Edith’s forgiveness after spilling the truth about Marigold to Bertie. But Julian Fellowes  would never let his beloved “strong and independent” Mary suffer too much. Mary’s middle name is probably Sue

The biggest problem that I’ve had with the series is its supposed heroine Mary. I have never seen a more cold, bitchy, snobbish, entitled character in all my years of watching television. It is even more annoying when the show and its fans hold her up as such a “strong and independent” woman and sensitive Edith is loathed as “whiney”.  Why is that some people always cheer on bullies and blame their victims for being weak?  I hope we can move beyond having our strong heroines generally be cold and sarcastic (Here’s a hint: It doesn’t do feminism too many favors) and female characters who are sensitive and kind being seen as spineless and boring. Fans have had problems with some of the things Edith has done, namely spilling the news about Kemal Pamuk’s death to the Turkish Embassy and her treatment of the Drewe family, and have valid points, but I have to say I’ve always sympathized more with Edith because I could understand where she was coming from and her character ark, starting off as bitter, insecure, and jealous and over time gaining confidence and finding her niche. Mary always seemed like an entitled little princess who  had everything and never had to work for it and got away with everything. Her relationship with Matthew softened her a bit but after his death she went right back to square one. I always find it tedious when you know that a character has a nice side but continues to act like they’re cold and heartless. Long story short, the dynamics between the two character both fascinated and infuriated me. The fact that this series could bring about so much emotion is both a testament to Julian Fellowes’s writing ability and the talent of everyone involved with the show.

Downton Abbey did not let me down in the end. Viewers were left feeling mostly satisfied with the all around happy endings, especially Edith’s Cinderella wedding . After the tension of the penultimate episode and the fear that Fellowes would give her the short end of the stick ending wise , I could finally breath a sigh of relief when she and the newly ennobled Bertie walked down the aisle. Perhaps nice girls don’t always finish last.