The experience of watching The Gilded Age will be pleasurable and a bit familiar for Downton Abbey fans for many reasons — and it’s just an entertaining show in general. In fact, period drama fans have probably been expecting this comparison.
A popular TV series is often referenced to promote a new one with even a slight similarity. But in this case, the connection is appropriate. Yes, they were created by the same writer, Julian Fellowes, but it’s more than that and it’s time to analyze why!
There is a Large Cast of Characters
Whereas Downton gave audiences the Crawley family and their servants in 1910s and ’20s Britain, The Gilded Age has TWO families for viewers to enjoy in 1880s New York City. Young Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson) has just lost her father and moves in with her old money aunts, Agnes (Christine Baranski) and Ada (Cynthia Nixon).
Agnes also married into money before being widowed so she is alarmed when the new money Russell family builds their opulent mansion right across the street. George Russell (Morgan Spector) is emblematic of the new kind of businessman, raking in astonishing wealth.
His wife Bertha (Carrie Coon) determines to break into the exclusive upper reaches of society no matter what. Their two children Larry (Harry Richardson) and Gladys (Taissa Farmiga) are along for the ride.
Each family has an array of staff and associates on hand, such as Peggy Scott (Denee Benton), the young Black woman who helps Marian on her journey to her aunts and becomes Agnes’ secretary.
The Drama is Juicy
Obviously, the central conflict revolves around Bertha Russell’s machinations to advance her family in society while Agnes resists all change that comes her way. But so many little dramas play out among this big group of characters, just like on Downton.
Whether it’s something small like a chef pretending to be French when he’s not or something big which I won’t spoil, there is always something interesting happening. The Russell’s business, Marian’s romantic life — anything can lead to scandal. Marian, Peggy, Agnes, Bertha, and George have the most screen time right now.
However, every character gets to be involved in the plot in some way over the course of the first season. Plus, you get to hear a famous name every once in a while, like the Astors or Ward McAllister.
The Production Values are Gorgeous
Period dramas can be eye candy for the audience with the costumes and sets. The Gilded Age certainly qualifies. The Russell’s mansion may make you gasp when you first see it in the first episode. The size and detail of it is incredible.
As for the costumes, Bertha in particular wears some memorable gowns. Look for the one with the peacock motif. But all the other characters get to look wonderful as well, even the sharp servant’s uniforms.
The design of the clothing can even say something about the characters themselves. Bertha’s willingness to push the fashion envelope reflects the way she sets about achieving all her goals.
There is a Ship to Root For
While nothing romantic has happened yet, Fellowes has laid the early foundation for a possible Marian and Larry Russell relationship in the future. Marian has other romantic concerns going on in season one.
Larry hasn’t had too much screen time so far. The two establish an easy friendship between them and it very much feels like the beginning of the friends-to-lovers trope. Marian is one of the few people who knows Larry would rather be an architect than join his father’s business, for example.
What delicious drama their love story would provide in the future, as well, given the way Marian’s Aunt Agnes feels about the Russells! That’s the sort of thing TV is all about. And who doesn’t love having a romance to cheer on?
The Gilded Age season 2 premiere date has not been announced yet but it has been filmed. So fans of Downton Abbey who haven’t caught this show yet have time to check out the first season. Any period drama fan, in fact, won’t regret seeking out The Gilded Age.
The Gilded Age is streaming on Max.