It's the first autumn without a new series of Downton, and yes, I do miss it, if not as passionately as I'd anticipated. As regards the future of Downton's characters, I've pretty much settled it in my imagination to my own satisfaction. What I miss most about the series is my level of engagement in it. I have a number of series piled up for test-watching purposes, and not a few turn out to be well-made. However, there's no way any characters' troublesome working or love life (or lack thereof) will turn any of my hairs white (which, I swear, actually happened with Downton series six).
If no absorbing fictional universe where you'd happily spend hours, first actually watching the series then speculating about what may happen next or has happened before, is forthcoming, then can one at least hope for a little dose of escapism? I know I'm not really entitled to too much of it at this time of year. In January, I needed escapism to get me through the beginning of the new year; in February, to get me through the post-Downton slump after having watched last year's series a second time; in June, to temper pre-holiday grumpiness; in August, to alleviate post-holiday sadness. If there was ever a time for more ambitious viewing and reading, this is it. Plus I have discovered one escapism series on the nerdy part of the scale (rather than the costume-drama one) which will do well to mix up realistic Danish crime series and grim adultery thrillers with. All the same, just one teeny frothy costume drama with romances and pretty dresses, even if sadly free from under-butlers, would not go amiss.
So I had some little hope for The Collection, which has started airing on Swedish television - especially as it was touted as "the most glamorous series ever" by one TV presenter. Alas, though, the pilot turned out to be unexpectedly gloomy. It started unpromisingly with a silent scene - no dialogue, no music, just sinister tinkling from a couple of rusty cans hung up to scare away birds from a long-forgotten vegetable garden - where a corpse is buried, and very inexpertly if I may say so. I have an aversion against silent scenes in TV and films, especially at the very beginning: they usually signal pretentiousness and lack of pace. We then jump back a few days in order to get an explanation for the corpse, but when it comes it is not nearly good enough. I like crime drama, but I just have to ask: does every series have to include a murder now, even when there's no good reason to murder anyone?
Yes, there are a few pretty dresses - the series is after all about a fashion house trying to make its mark in post-WWII Paris - but they don't make up for the general downbeat feel of the plot. The fashion house in question is led by Paul Sabine, and the chief designer is his brother Claude. In a nice stereotype-busting role reversal, scrubbed-up, besuited Paul is the straight one, advantageously married to a beautiful and well-connected American. Whereas scruffy, macho Claude, who lives and rarely works in a Bohemian flat with his cat is the gay one - he's dangerously into rough sailors. Neither of them is a barrel of laughs, though. Paul is glum because he has business problems - it's hard to feel too sorry for him, as he unnecessarily rubs his new business partner up the wrong way, which leads to an entirely avoidable "succeed with your next collection or else" ultimatum. Claude is glum because his family play merry havoc with his love life in the most misguided "get the lazy brother to work" drive I've ever seen. Other glum characters include a pretty seamstress who has had to give her illegitimate baby away (the series takes ages exploring her grief on the train back). A new career as a dress model beckons, but after a couple of happy pictures around Paris to gay accordion music it all goes pear-shaped, and the shrinking violet refuses ever to try again, in spite of getting three separate pep talks (I did enjoy Claude's Beauty and the Beast-inspired one). Frances de la Tour puts in a characteristically classy, scary turn as the matriarch of the Sabine family, but not even she is happy.
If the pilot had been less down in the mouth, I would more easily have forgiven some shoddy plotting: for instance, an unsuspecting Paul buys the very derelict cottage next to which his mother's loyal thug of a chauffeur has buried Claude's sailor boyfriend (victim of the scantily explained murder mentioned above). Seriously, what are the odds? The corpse has not been dicovered yet, but as I heard those cans tinkling forebodingly yet again I'm not sure I didn't groan aloud. As it appears now, The Collection isn't frothy enough for light entertainment, but neither is it deep enough for serious drama.
I'll give it another try, though. The pilot of a series rarely shows it at its best. As Paul waxes lyrical about fashion collections symbolising Paris rising from the ashes like a phoenix, one can hope the phoenix bit is still to come. We've certainly had the ashes bit.