A rift is currently coursing through our nation. A divide is wrenching one half of us from the other, separating the ancien regime from the new world order; those who yearn for the past from those who get off on their fear of the future. It’s 9 o’clock on Sunday night, the dinner is eaten, the telly’s warming up, and you’ve got to pledge your allegiance. You’re either a Downton person, primed for ITV, or a Homeland one, glued to Channel 4. Chamberpots or despots, corsets or al-Qa’ida, PLU or CIA. Domestic staff or domestic security. Which is it to be?
Unless, of course, you’re one of the deranged lunatics who is trying to watch both – and this is what’s really causing all the bother. One of those people who likes telly, and so joins others on Twitter who like talking about telly, and then goes aaargh don’t talk about the telly until I have finished watching the telly, all of the telly? “TSK NO SPOILERS,” they shout, barging into other people’s online conversations about whether Saul in Homeland is actually turning out to be a baddy. (Saul! My great bearded breathy man of Arab learning and humanitarian hope! Whose devotion to his job caused his wife to leave him with sadness in her wandering eyes! Oh, Saul. Informant I can handle, actual baddy – no, no, no!)
There are people now trying to instigate a Twitter moratorium whereby you can’t talk about either Downton or Homeland until two days afterwards, so everybody has had a chance to catch up. I wish them good luck with this ban. It seems so workable! No but really, the actual solution is for people to pledge their allegiance here. Nail their colours to the mast. Decide to like only one kind of drama. What is this – a post-modern age in which people are allowed to enjoy more than one thing in their lives? Honestly. And so, I remain firm on this point – you’re either Downton or Homeland, not both.
The two shows both deal with men coming back from a war, but in Downton it’s English chaps after the First World War, whereas Homeland has American marines home from Iraq. Would you rather your soldier returned from captivity unexpectedly Muslim, or from the trenches unexpectedly gay? Do you prefer your characters to die in childbirth, or at the hands of a rogue sniper? Are you sucked in by layer upon layer of espionagey plot twist and double-crossing brainiacs, or would you rather watch the class system unravelling all around a footman and a scullery and someone called Lady Sybil?
Of course, you could be the rogue viewer who is happily filling that 9pm Sunday slot with Andrew Marr’s History of the World on BBC1, but then we know the ending to that one already.