Back at the height Downton Abbey’s popularity, creator Julian Fellowes was developing a prequel series about the Gilded Age-era romance between Cora Levinson and a young Lord Grantham. As we learned during the series, Cora was one of the “dollar duchesses”—I guess in her case, a “coin countess”—a new-money American heiress looking to buy a title from a cash-strapped English lord. That prequel series, however, got scrapped along the way and instead morphed into The Gilded Age, a series set in America in the 1880s, about the clash of old and new money during the robber baron era. Coming to HBO Max in January, the first trailer for The Gilded Age is here, and yes, please, give me all of Christine Baranski berating the characters, the audience, everyone.


The “American Downton Abbey” flavor is strong, particularly with Baranski assuming the mantle of dowager countess as an old-money matriarch beset by vulgar new money misses. The cast is stacked with incredible actresses, starting with Baranski but also including Carrie Coon, Cynthia Nixon, Taissa Farmiga, and Jeanne Tripplehorn and Audra McDonald in smaller roles. I don’t know if this looks more serious than Downton Abbey—which has extended past its shelf life so far that the new movie is just about a French vacation—but it does look more pointedly fanged right out of the gate. Downton had its share of viciousness right from the start, but it was all about the infighting within the Crawley family and their servants below stairs. But any outside threat was either outright rejected—like that intolerable schoolteacher, remember her?—or assimilated, as in the case of Irish revolutionary Branson, who is now as English as any of them. 


The whole point of the robber baron era, though, is that the old money old guard of New York couldn’t withstand the brute force invasion of the new money industrialists and were fairly quickly unseated from the center of power. Oh sure, they have their private clubs that new money still can’t crack to this day, but I challenge you to name me three old guard American families, while I bet you can knock out, like, six industrialist dynasties. I’m interested to see Fellowes, who has made so much of Downton Abbey into an affectionate upholding of aristocratic values, deal with a world that dismantled those values on the other side of the pond. I’m also a little bit petrified to see how he deals with race, which has never been his strong suit. I am here for Christine Baranski’s sick but elegant burns, but am terrified of how he’s going to represent post-Reconstruction Black society.