Was Mrs van Rhijn’s late husband a descendant of the horrible Nicholas Van Ryn (admittedly with a different spelling) of Dragonwyck? And are any of the nouveaux riches related to the Countess of Grantham? Just curious! This is actually rather good. It’s missing the brilliant one-liners of Downton Abbey, but there’s certainly plenty to interest the viewer in the numerous characters, the general Gilded Age atmosphere of the clash between the old New York families and the new money families, and the stories of a young black woman trying to make her way in the world, Mrs van Rhijn’s gay son, and the “below stairs” people. Impressive cast list, as well.
It does feature the Astors, the Roosevelts and Clara Barton, but the main characters are fictional. We’ve got Marian Brook, a young woman from Pennsylvania, old money but without any actual cash, coming to New York City to live with her aunts, Mrs van Rijn and Miss Brook, and the friend she makes en route, Peggy Scott, the ambitious young black woman who becomes Mrs van Rijn’s secretary. And then we’ve got the Russells, their new, social climbing, neighbours – think the Carnegies or the Rockefellers. And two sets of snobby servants.
Not a lot actually happened in the first episode, beyond setting the scene, and the Russells holding a party which was snubbed by the “old” families. And there was very little to put it into historical context, other than a message of Jesse James being shot. But it was certainly promising.