'Downton' mania in merch, spoofs and spinoffs

"Downton Abbey" has encouraged imitators and merchandise.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but the best indicator of massive popularity is the amount of tie-in merchandise. "Downton Abbey" mania has produced plenty of both, in the form of numerous spoofs and enough coffee mugs, replica cookware and T-shirts to fill Lady Mary's capacious closet to bursting.

"SNL" did a laugh-out-loud "promo" for the series as if it were running on Spike TV, calling the Dowager Countess "the chicken lady." A sendup on "The Colbert Report" had actual "Downton" cast members cooking meth à la "Breaking Bad." There was "Downton Arby's," in which everyone worked or was a customer at you-know-where, and a Jimmy Fallon impersonation. Even "Sesame Street" got in a lesson on gravity titled "Upside Downton Abbey."

"Downton"-connected Twitter hashtags indicate the minutiae that fascinate fans; for example: #obriensbangs.

Many related products have been less inspired, with "Free Bates" and "Kissing Cousins" T-shirts among the most distasteful (can you imagine even the downstairs staff in so lowly a garment? Carson would have a fit). An unofficial cookbook contains mouthwatering, if not entirely authentic, recipes. And the craft-sales website Etsy has been whipped into a clinging-to-Grantham-coattails frenzy, tacking "Downton Abbey" in front of everything from Edwardian-style jewelry to hand-painted tea sets in hopes of attracting the show's fans.

One shudders to think what the Dowager would have to say about all this crass commercialism -- "What is a T-shirt?"

Meanwhile, beyond the already planned fourth season, "Downton" mania has shown no signs of a-Bates-ing. NBC has hired Julian Fellowes to create a late-Victorian-era American series called "Gilded Age," and he's also pondering a prequel about the courtship of Lord and Lady Grantham.

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046

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