Is it possible to adapt to change, especially when it's forced upon you? That's part of the premise behind season three of PBS' hit show "Downton Abbey," which followed a family of wealthy British aristocasts and their very different servants. The results might have seemed tradition, but each episode delivered a new surprise each week.
"Downton Abbey" followed the wealthy Crawley family and their daily lives in their Downton Abbey estate. Living in the house has brought each family member and servant their own level of joy and pain. Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) was the Earl of Grantham and he helped to supervise the upkeep of Downton Abbey. His wife Lady Cora's (Elizabeth McGovern) wealth helped to keep the house afloat, but Robert made an investment before the end of World War I was soon called into question when he got some bad news. He found out that he lost a lot of Cora's money and he had to help pay for an expensive wedding for his eldest daughter Mary (Michelle Dockery) and her true love Matthew (Dan Stevens). Mary's sisters Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) are having their own challenges with their love lives as well. Unfortunately, the Crawleys aren't the only one having some problems. The servants are having their fair share of turmoil. Robert's former valet John Bates (Brendan Coyle) was falsely convicted of murder, which left his new wife Anna (Joanne Froggatt) on the outside alone as Downton's head housemaid. Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) was a housekeeper who found that she might have cancer, which caused the Crawley's butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) to look at her differently. Will the Crawleys be able to save Downton Abbey as the Roaring Twenties waged on?
In terms of questions, it's too early to say wherever the Crawleys will have to sell their beloved home. The only ones that know for certain are the show's writers and the viewers who already saw the show when it aired on Great Britain's ITV last year. For those getting into the show now, they will quickly become immersed in all of the drama going on at the Crawley estate regardless of which part of the house it came from. The premiere featured Logan's Mrs. Hughes being shocked to the core by her health diagnosis, but she gave her character a level of stoic determination that will earn her the respect of everyone from both classes down the line. The premiere's greatest highlight was Mary and Matthew's wedding, which did not sacrifice expense or romance. Viewers would've been touched to see the lovebirds finally get together. A close second highlight came the initial confrontation between Robert's traditional mother Violet (Maggie Smith) and Cora's free spirited mother Martha (Shirley MacLaine) was a hysterical delight. It was fascinating to watch both MacLaine and Smith verbally duke it out without having to offend too many members of high society. MacLaine's presence shook things up, but it didn't take away from the rest of the cast. Her presence also allowed Smith's usually unflappable Violet to be shaken up for a change, which was a refreshing change of pace.
As for breakout stars, Dockery and Stevens were early standouts as they played troubled lovebirds Matthew and Mary. They gave their characters a playful chemistry that allowed both of them to find laughter in everything that was thrown their way. How will the show handle Stevens' rumored departure next year? That remains a mystery for the time being. It's not even certain whether he's even leaving based on some additional rumors that have floating around the internet. Bonneville and McGovern also demonstrated a strong rapport as the show's longtime married couple as they seemed to lean on each other during the best and worst of times. The show managed to showcase a couple that found love after marrying for the wrong reasons. In terms of risks, the show's greatest one has been keeping Coyle's Bates in prison for a crime he didn't commit. The story had the power to take away from the grandeur of the rest of the show, but it managed to add to it so far as Froggatt's Anna visited him regularly to catch him up on everything. Fingers crossed that the show will resolve that story sooner rather than later.
"Downton Abbey" premiered on January 6th and airs Sundays at 9:00 PM on PBS.
Verdict: The show returns and thrives with the addition of MacLaine's rebellious society coming to shake up all of the Crawley's traditions.
TV Score: 4 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)