Aristocracy might be our theme for the weekend, which is dominated by the end of this season of Downton Abbey and by Beyoncé Knowles. Lady Mary – or the most famous and fabulously successful singer of our time? What’s our poison? And is it really aristocracy coming our way, or the fabulous allure of banality?
Life Is But A Dream (Saturday, HBO Canada, 9 p.m.) is an astonishing documentary, especially if you come at it merely curious about Beyoncé – not a fan, not a devotee of the music, but mildly interested in this very famous person. It’s astonishing because it’s very much a concoction of our age: simultaneously revealing and bleakly contrived.
Made (of course) under Beyoncé’s auspices, the show deals a lot with her decision a couple years back to stop having her father, Matthew Knowles, manage her. Talking in a curious language – a mixture of therapy talk and music-biz executive-speak – she goes on and on about needing her father’s approval since childhood, and how that helped and then restricted her. There are odd scenes, early on, of her father coming and going in her professional life, usually while the singer is talking about what seem very private mental conflicts. At times, it’s downright creepy to witness this adult woman’s musings about her dad.
Then there is her work ethic, which seems mind-boggling: the obsession with the music, the choreography, and the construction of her oeuvre; the analysis of how her audience perceives her; and her lament that occasional hit songs strike a deep chord with people, while carefully crafted albums don’t command respect. It is a bewildering experience to hear her talk so passionately about music that is, most of the time, phenomenally banal.
Because Beyoncé is known to be fairly private, the material about her relationship with Jay-Z, her pregnancy and her devotion to daughter Blue Ivy will make the program fascinating to some people. But to the casual observer of pop music, what is taken away is the relentless work, and the devotion to commercial success – and, perhaps, the uneasy feeling that the viewer is being used as part of an elaborate strategy to open up new markets.
Downton Abbey (Sunday, PBS, 9 p.m. on Masterpiece Classic) reaches the end of its third season, one that had a lot more action than did the second. The series is now beyond reviewing: It has a status that makes criticism redundant; it’s more a matter of fans savouring this and that character or scene.
There has been so much packed into a short batch of episodes. So many twists, so many upswings of emotion. But at this season’s heart, one could say, has been the relationship between Matthew and Mary. While other events have unfolded, the core of the series has been the pair of them, deeply in love with each other, staring deeply into each other’s eyes.
Things change as this season ends, but Lady Mary remains the one constant, the source of allure: the tension between her and her parents, the need for her growth. In a way, this all connects to the Beyoncé story. Father. Support of a loving partner. Wealth. But there is a difference, of course, Lady Mary being so restricted in her actions by her gender and status and era.
Two types of aristocratic ladies with overlapping problems. Two periods in time. The differences illustrate much about Downton – and maybe something about Beyoncé, too.
Also airing this weekend
The 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (Saturday, HBO Canada, 6:45 p.m.) airs just before the Beyoncé special and might have some music more to the taste of people bewildered by Knowles.
It’s about last year’s induction of the Beastie Boys, Donovan, Guns N’ Roses, Laura Nyro, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Small Faces/the Faces, the Blue Caps, the Comets, the Crickets and the Famous Flames.
The Republic of Doyle (Sunday, CBC, 9 p.m.) has taken a wise turn this season, putting emphasis on the storyline of Sgt. Leslie Bennett (Krystin Pellerin) and the dilemmas and issues that arise when she goes undercover. This week’s episode has some interesting action for the Doyle clan, on the trail of an international art thief. And singer Alan Doyle, who provides the “Oh, yeah” music, makes a guest appearance.
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