TV Review: George Clooney Takes Over ‘Downton Abbey for Text Santa’

Caution: This post contains spoilers.

The beloved characters of “Downton Abbey” spoofed themselves in a “Text Santa” charity special on television this past weekend. It’s quite a hilarious romp, beginning with Lord Grantham’s (Hugh Bonneville) discovery that he’s lost the family fortune again. Following the familiar path of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he thinks life for everyone would be better if he’d never been born. Joanna Lumley pops up as the Christmas ghost to show him just how things would have turned out.

Be mindful that this charity special consists of two parts:

Even though the segment is a short sketch, it never descends into the mediocrity that sometimes befalls “Saturday Night Live.” Nor is it dragged down by the limitations that are often imposed when you employ the “Wonderful Life” premise: being too preachy or running at an uneven peace. Rather, it’s lightness and witty dialogue will leave you chuckling and laughing all throughout, especially with the swooning part on (or shall I say “off”?) the couch. The talent of these actors leaves you with the sense that you’re watching a comedy at the theater or even a musical because of the energy they bring to their roles. It’s clear that everyone, particularly Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan, is having a good time on and off camera.

We’ve already known for days about George Clooney’s appearance and the selfie, but the spoiler did little to dampen the freshness of his antics as George Oceans Gravity, affectionately addressed as Lord Hollywood by the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith). There are a couple of other fun cameos to round out the sketch. The first is by retail entrepreneur Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) as he delivers clothes and flirts with the ladies of Downton. Later, Lord Grantham walks by writer Julian Fellowes, questioning the absurdity of the events. In some regard, it’s hard to feel sorry for the Earl of Grantham because life does appear to be better or at least more exciting at the Manor with Lord Hollywood in control. The alternate “Downton Abbey” is certainly a world that is worth revisiting in the future.

However, let’s not forget the real purpose of “Downton Abbey for Text Santa.” The 2014 appeal raised money for six charities: Alzheimer’s Society, Guide Dogs, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Teenage Cancer Trust, Together for Shorter Lives, and WellChild. So far funds have exceeded £5.5 million.

“Downton Abbey” returns to PBS in the United States on January 4, 2015. In the United Kingdom, it airs on ITV.

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