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'Downton Abbey' parodies, tributes inspire series creator

'Downton Abbey' creator Julian Fellowes has seen some of the tributes to his series, and he's fond of one of them. Arby's, anyone?

June 14, 2012|By Glenn Whipp, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • JULIAN FELLOWES, "Downton Abbey's" creator, had his hands full at the Emmy Awards last year.
JULIAN FELLOWES, "Downton Abbey's" creator, had his… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

"Downton Abbey"creator Julian Fellowes has watched all the parodies of his show — Jimmy Fallon's "Downton Sixbey," the "Saturday Night Live" skit re-imagining "Downton" as an obnoxious SpikeTV series, the dog website that pairs the program's characters with canine counterparts.

But one sketch has captured Fellowes' fancy more than any other.

"That fast-food chain you have with the name something like Arbus," Fellowes says, calling from his home in Dorset, England. Arby's? "That's it. 'Downton Arby's.' That one gave me so much pleasure. The gags display such an understanding of the characters. I loved watching [problem middle daughter] Edith getting it all wrong, being depressed and ripping open those packets of horseradish sauce with her teeth."

The ubiquity of the "Downton" tributes and parodies owes as much to Fellowes' well-defined characters as fan fervor. The stoic Mr. Bates, the sour-faced schemers O'Brien and Thomas, the bumbling Edith, the haughty Dowager Countess are all ripe for roasting, and the estate's heated rivalries and backbiting translate nicely into almost any workplace environment.

Take the way Fallon and his Studio 6B crew, including guests Brooke Shields, Fred Armisen and Whoopi Goldberg, capture the spirit of "Downton." Dressed in period finery, Fallon plays the manor's lord, distraught at the loss of an heir and the absence of a Kardashian joke in his monologue. Then "Downton's" new heir, Questlove, arrives. Questlove initially bristles at expectations and environment. ("I can pick my own damn cuff links," he tells his unwanted butler. "You won't change me.") But he comes around, thanks, in part, to the gift of an Afro pick ("pearl with platinum inlay, used by Sir Tito Jackson on the Victory Tour").

"Julian has created a group of characters who are so different and so identifiable that they've become their own particular brand," says "Masterpiece" executive producer Rebecca Eaton, who counts the "Downton" paper dolls as her favorite. ("I love the one of poor Pamuk, the unfortunate Turkish diplomat," Eaton says of Lady Mary's unfortunate one-night stand. "He's sort of cut in two.")

Fellowes likes that one too. He says that sometimes the sketches' humor loses something when crossing the Atlantic. Other times, Fellowes says, they open his eyes to unexplored avenues.

"I do like American fast food, so I might have eaten at Arby's driving on a motorway or something," Fellowes says. "But even if I haven't, I'm going to eat there now."

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