This time last year the British drama “Downton Abbey” was just beginning to break through to US audiences. Early fans of the series had just begun getting into the show’s second season and the Golden Globes were about to up its visibility tenfold. A year later, “Downton” has exploded across the world of pop culture and now is a legitimate force in any awards race. As season three gets ready to make its US debut tonight, fans are bracing themselves for what they know can quickly become an emotional rollercoaster.
Season two of the period drama ended with the happy news of an engagement between two of the show’s lead characters, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens). While their courtship only lasted a little over a dozen episodes, that has been enough to cover years in the “Downton” universe, which itself has only produced 16 total installments (not counting season 3). The series which started off with the sinking of the Titanic has now spanned well past World War I and will time jump again as the cast is now preparing for their own royal wedding.
The new season will also introduce Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine to the mix when her character Martha, arrives at Downton in tonight’s premiere to help plan the nuptials of her granddaughter. An American outsider, Martha will go toe-to-toe with Violet, the Countess of Granham (better known as scene stealer Dame Maggie Smith), whose one-liners have made her a fan favorite as Mary’s paternal grandmother.
In fact both Dockery and Smith will represent the series at next Sunday’s Golden Globes as nominees, alongside of course the series itself. According to a poll by respected odds site Gold Derby, “Downton” which won in the mini-series category last year, could be in good shape to dominate its new “drama series” home, especially given the Globes’ strong group of foreign voters.
Produced by ITV in the UK, “Downton” airs first in England before running on PBS here in the US months later. As a result spoilers are rampant and diehard fans who can’t wait to watch the episodes stateside already know just how many highs and lows viewers will experience this season (and into its already ordered fourth).
Then again that’s what makes “Downton” a drama in a class of its own. With just a few episodes per season the show doesn’t have to rely on the same “filler” plotlines its broadcast and cable counterparts tend to fall back on. Thanks to its crisp writing and sharp acting from one of TV’s best ensembles, overall you’d be hard pressed not to become engrossed in its world. Plus with it now being an established series, PBS is poised to see strong numbers that may asking for donations a little easier in 2013.