PERFORMING ARTS

Masterpiece: America’s 50-Year-Old Love Affair with British Television Drama

Rowman & Littlefield. Nov. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9781538134474. $32. TV
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West (English, Univ. of Missouri; Tabloid, Inc.) presents a comprehensive guide to and assessment of Masterpiece Theatre (now simply called Masterpiece), PBS’s award-winning anthology program that began in 1971 with The First Churchills; a recent high point was the tremendously successful Downton Abbey. The crime series Mystery! followed nine years later, and though both were unapologetically British in content, they resonated with American audiences. Why? According to West, Americans yearn for tradition. She analyzes the impact of the programs, considers Alistair Cooke’s contributions (he wasn’t just the gentlemanly host of the early shows), and explores politics and culture, such as race and color-conscious casting as well as the funding challenges PBS has faced. The author includes a “travel guide” to the shooting locations in case fans want to make the pilgrimage and delves into each series, from Upstairs, Downstairs to Downton Abbey, from Miss Marple to Grantchester, with lots of juicy bits for celebrity mavens. But this is no gossipy tell-all or mere coffee-table book; with trenchant analysis, extensive notes, and a lengthy bibliography, this is a scholarly look at two series that had great influence on the American psyche and put PBS on the map.
VERDICT The definitive guide for scholars and fans alike to all things Masterpiece and Mystery!

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