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How The Gilded Age Can Become The Next Downton Abbey

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How The Gilded Age Can Become The Next Downton Abbey

The Gilded Age, premiering on HBO, must follow Downton Abbey’s lead rather than repeating the mistakes of Belgravia, Julian Fellowes’ last show.

HBO’s The Gilded Age, from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, has the potential to recapture Downton’s magic, but only if it avoids the pitfalls that plagued his earlier project, Belgravia. Originally set to air on NBC in 2018, The Gilded Age moved to HBO for an intended 2021 premiere before finally being released on January 24th of this year. The Gilded Age is set in 1880s New York City, where old money aristocrats clash with newly rich industrialists for status and power, as they preside over a country in the midst of a massive social and economic upheaval. 

The show follows Marian (Louisa Jacobson), a poor young woman who moves in with her aristocratic aunts Ada (Cynthia Nixon) and Agnes (Christine Baranski). Across the street resides a new money family headed by railroad magnate George (Morgan Spector). The premise offers class tensions and marriage woes as Marian’s aunts want to find her a good match. While this does not pack the punch of where Downton Abbey began its 15-year journey, with the sinking of the Titanic and the estate’s heir along with it, the idea of centering the show around two houses and competing worldviews has promise.

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Related: Downton Abbey’s “New Era” Missed The Perfect, Tragic Set-Up

The setting has potential, but Gilded Age must deliver the high drama, romantic fantasy, and audience relatability that kept Downton viewers coming back year after year. As Belgravia sadly proved, that’s harder than it sounds. Here’s what The Gilded Age needs to do in order to become the next Downton Abbey and avoid the pitfalls that plagued Belgravia.

The Gilded Age Needs To Avoid Belgravia’s Mistakes

Belgravia, Fellowes’ last attempt to recreate the magic of Downton, lacked the soap opera pleasures that made its predecessor so addictive. It tells a darker story revolving around thoroughly unsympathetic characters while displaying how untouchable the aristocracy is, and how it maintains its hold on power and wealth while gliding over its crimes and cruelty.  The pilot depicts a real event, The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, interrupted, in life and art, by the news that Napoleon has arrived and the men must march off to the Battle of Waterloo. This leads to beautiful Sophia Trenchard (Emily Reid) discovering that she has been duped by Lord Edward Bellasis (Jeremy Neumark Jones). The daughter of a rising merchant, she thought she had made a good match when she married him in a secret ceremony. Now pregnant with his child, she discovers the marriage was a sham. Even worse, Bellasis died at Waterloo, and Sophie, hidden away in shame, dies in childbirth, leaving the baby condemned to a life as an orphaned bastard. However, the aristocratic family suffers no consequences for what their son has done and it makes for not very pleasurable viewing. It’s telling that Belgravia season 1 aired almost two years ago and there’s still no word on whether or not it will get a second season.


Downton also weaved real history into its narrative, but always with a light touch and a commitment to telling stories about characters, not events. In the Downton Abbey movie, the Crawleys meet King George and Queen Mary, a story that was spawned from a real visit from the Royals to the Yorkshire estate where the show is filmed. Rather than the focus being on broader societal concerns relating to the Royal family, Downton’s attention remained on the logistical problems of not having enough time to prepare for the guests’ arrival – something anyone who has ever held a dinner party can identify with.

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 The Gilded Age Should Embrace Comedy Like Downton Abbey Did

Downton’s enduring power comes from its commitment to comedy. The show is so rewatchable because of its inherent lack of doom. Despite all the tragedies, the hopeful series always signals that this world is changing, and that means things are getting better. Matthew won’t be paralyzed forever. Mary will find love again. Years after the show ended, Mary’s quips, like the French holiday joke, are still being recalled and woven into the current movies. Memes of the Dowager’s comedic lines make the internet rounds every week.

Related: Jessica Brown Findlay Movie & TV Roles: Where You Know The Black Mirror Star


Most importantly, audiences could laugh at the Dowager not knowing what a weekend was because her unequal world was fading away. The rules and restrictions that shaped destinies during both early 1900s Britain and 1880s America were by design, repressive and damaging. Such situations are also great fodder for humor, as rigid societies tend to be. A story about the wealthy people who take advantage of and harm everyone beneath them, often without even realizing it, must gravitate towards the funnier aspects of their lives to not alienate the viewer. The Gilded Age‘s characters (and writers) would do well to remember that modern audiences no longer want to see the wealthy exclusively placed on a pedestal, but stories that expose their flaws and enable them to be the aim of a joke the same as any other character.


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Keeping The Story Focused On Both The Aristocrats & Lower Class Will Ensure Gilded Age’s Popularity

Downton Abbey escaped feeling like a love letter to the aristocracy by treating the people below them as equally important to its narratives. Even the 2019 Downton Abbey movie carries on the legacy of the show by treating the return of Carson the butler like a star coming out of retirement to play one last role. Given that the vast majority of the world and the show’s viewers would not have been Crawley family members but servants in this era, giving attention to the less glamorous makes the viewer feel like they have a valued role in this story. By contrast, Belgravia kept all the action upstairs and focused on the rich, not the people who served them. In doing so, Fellowes created a story that felt insular and out of touch. 

Downton also shows how fragile the aristocracy has become. Previously, viewers watched shows about the uber-wealthy to revel in the fantasy of living in luxury. But in current times, romanticizing the ultra-rich has grown stale. Downton grew its audience by committing to propulsive melodrama and adhering to traditional romantic storytelling while making sure to include sympathetic characters both upstairs and downstairs. Downton servants Andy and Daisy getting married is just as emotionally rich as those of the Crawley family, not just because of the skill of actors Michael C. Fox and Sophie McShera, but also due to the balanced writing. But the rich also had relatable plotlines, such as Mary facing marrying someone she doesn’t know or like, and the Crawleys potentially losing their home. The Gilded Age must bring back the high drama, centering it around people audiences can enjoy rooting for.


The Gilded Age has a great opportunity to explore the varying pathways to status and security in a fast-changing world. If its pilot packs an emotionally resonant punch, it will accumulate the kind of sprawling cast of characters that Downton Abbey took six years to build out. If the show can deliver a twist half as good as Downton‘s Mary getting her maid to help her drag away the dead body of her Turkish lover in the dead of night, it will be around for a long, long time. 

Next: Downton Abbey Timeline Explained: When Is A New Era Set?

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The Gilded Age premieres Monday, January 24 on HBO.


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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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