"A glorified soap!", people grumble. (They're right.) "The dialogue is terrible!", the haters quibble. (They're right.) "The upstairs lot are all horrible!", scream those who pretend not to watch the show, and of course they're right.
The truth is, you're kind of missing the point if you've been tuning in to Downton Abbey expecting a nuanced character drama. The series was created by Julian Fellowes, a writer who has only one party trick - writing about wealthy and ghastly people who lived in quainter times. Downton is probably the most exquisite example of this ever to grace our television screens, because its poor characters are mostly ghastly and its rich characters are all extremely ghastly.
And it doesn't matter one bit, because we love them. After spending five years in the company of the wealthy, largely horrible Crawley family and the dirt poor men and women who serve them, everything's about to come to an end. Season 6 will be the last, and although there's talk of a movie, this feels like the end of an era. So let's look ahead at what the show can do to bow out on a dignified note, and where we'd like some of our Downton favourites to end their journeys.
What do we know about season 6?
If you've been watching from the start, you'll know that time has passed (in Downton, whole months can pass between episodes, or an entire season can cover just a few weeks - it's fair to say they play fast and loose with the concept of time) and with that comes change: specifically, the idea that the aristocracy can no longer continue to live as lavishly as they have for centuries.
It's a theme that's been touched on a few times already, but will become a major focus in season 6. That doesn't just have consequences for the Crawleys - it's hard to imagine Robert responding too well to the idea of downsizing his estate - but for the downstairs staff, some of whom will be losing their jobs.
What else? Well, Lady Edith is living the life of a bachelorette in London with her Aunt Rosamund (to me all of Rosamund's scenes are hilarious because I just see Miss Moneypenny playing dress-up), and she and Mary are still at loggerheads, like we'd have it any other way. Apparently, one scene sees Robert and Cora sneak downstairs into the kitchen to look for a midnight snack. This, obviously, is utterly unthinkable. I eagerly await the gifs.
Here's what else season 6 could do to ensure it goes out in (conservative) style.
A downstairs wedding...
I know, I know: this completely breaks with the series-long tradition of the downstairs staff being miserable and living in quarters with no natural light. But we deserve this. More to the point, they deserve this: Charles Carson and Mrs. Hughes, the two unsung heroes of Downton. We've watched this romance grow, slowly, neither Carson nor Hughes in any rush at their time of life. Whereas Mary has a new suitor every season, it took three just for Carson to put a ring on it.
These are two modest people who've lived humble lives, and being possibly the only nice characters in the show's history, they deserve a big, joyous wedding.
An upstairs death...
Not that Downton has been shortchanging us on the death front - just about anybody who's even vaguely happy is sentenced to death, which presumably is why Bates and Anna are always so bloody miserable. We've watched the Dowager Countess slag off foreigners, disrespect family members, marvel at the concept of a weekend... basically, she's the ultimate diva, and we've come to love her. But the aristocracy is winding down, and what could be more symbolic than the death of the woman who defines what it means to be rich and spoiled? It would be a proper tearjerker, and she would say goodbye in the most typically Dowager Countess fashion - as the centre of attention.
A happy ending...
Although there are three Crawley daughters, not to mention cousin Rose, only one has ever really mattered: Lady Mary. She has a heart of stone, a ravenous sexual appetite (let's not forget, she literally shagged Kemal Pamuk to death), and a complete disinterest in everybody who isn't Lady Mary. She's deliciously rotten, and we can't help but root for her. Perhaps there's a loving heart beneath it all, somewhere, deep down... then again, maybe not.
If the final season of Downton delivers nothing else, I'll settle for an ending in which Mary drives off into the sunset with a huge stack of money inherited from her grandmother and the vague promise of happiness.
...and a few final zingers from the Dowager Countess
Because it would not be Downton Abbey without the razor-sharp wit of the Dowager. Maggie Smith plans to celebrate the end of the series by "lying down... for a very long time". She deserves it. Take a look at a few of the Dowager's most acerbic outbursts in the video below.
Downton Abbey season 6 comes to ITV this September, airing its final ever episode on December 25. Don't miss it.