Downton Abbey is utterly a product of today, and this dissonance is revealed in the script as its writers wander in our 21st-century moral wilderness while comfortably making pronouncements on the moral failings of people who lived in the previous one. These failings aren’t the same as our own; we are far more enlightened these days than those numbskulls who lived one hundred years ago, locked as they were in the British social hierarchy. No, their failings are ones of race and class and gender and sexual freedom, stuff we’ve since figured out. More or less.
Downton Abbey is a sort of playhouse, its characters manipulated by writers in the way paper dolls are manipulated by children: one-dimensional figures propped up on various pieces of furniture, the primary function of which is to show off regular costume changes and to serve as mouthpieces for whoever is controlling them. So it is for all the various characters that populate Downton Abbey. No matter how many are added or taken away with each successive season, every player, from the head of household to the lowliest undercook, is trapped in their own set of behaviors, reduced, in laymen’s terms, to having “issues”—issues which are understood with total clarity by 21st century viewers, existing as we do in our enlightened age.
–S.D. Kelly, “The One-Dimensional Humanity of ‘Downton Abbey’”