When I heard that PBS would be returning its surprise hit DOWNTON ABBEY, I threw my tea and crumpets into the air and danced with joy (Try to picture that). Since then the hoopla has been non-stop. It's as if I were LOST on the island, and someone explained the meaning of life or at least told me that series would be explained.
The first season of DOWNTON ABBEY stirred memories of BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, the elegaic goodbye to the good old days of strawberries and teddy bears at Oxford, and, of course, UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS, which chronicled the aristocratic Bellamy family and their servants from 1903 through 1930. Of all the English Masterpiece Theater imports, this is the one that put Public Television on the map. Both BRIDESHEAD and UPSTAIRS were what was once known as "appointment television," a term that seems long gone when there are over 300 channels to choose from. Until DOWNTON ABBEY.
Series One, set in the years before World War One, follows the Crawley family and their servants facing the possible entail of their magnificent estate, a scandal that could cost their eldest daughter Mary her reputation, and lots of in-fighting upstairs and down. The entire cast is inpeccable, but special credit should be given to the irreplaceable Dame Maggie Smith as Lady Grantham, the Dowager Countess and mother of the Earl. Smith's acerbic digs at any encroachment on her class or way of life are priceless gems, delivered with acidic humor. As Mary, the oldest daughter, Michelle Dockery, combines haughtiness with a growing sense of tenderness as she begins to shed her "noble" airs. Elizabeth McGovern is lovely and loving as Lady Brantley, an American heiress who saved the Abbey when she brought her fortune as a dowry. But the Brantleys have three daughters, which means the estate must go to the nearest male heir.
As the first episode of season 2 begins two years later, England is immersed in the Great War, and both upstairs and downstairs folks have men in the trenches. Lady Mary seems to have lost her true love, the younger sisters have joined the war effort, and Downton Abbey is now a military convelescent center. Much has changed, but the characters are even more developed and interesting. Appointment television is back!