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The "Downton" season is a well-done downer

By Alan Pergament

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I can get annoyed when WNED-TV delays the airing of national programs like the recent ones on NFL concussions and Marvin Hamlisch.

But I have a bigger bone to pick with WNED's parent, PBS.

I wish PBS would have played season four of "Downton Abbey" at the same time as it was carried across the pond even if it meant running into the fall schedules of new shows on broadcast television.

The truth is the fall leaks about the big plot moments of the season that has already played in Great Britain ruined some of my enjoyment of the exploits of the Crawleys and the people that serve them early in the 20th Century.

PBS made the first seven episodes of the season available to critics, leaving only the season finale unscreened.

I watched them all over the holidays and I almost got as depressed as Lady Mary. That's because there isn't a whole lot of happiness or laughter going on.

It’s a well-acted, entertaining downer of a season.

You may recall I got hooked on the series a year ago when I made the Christmas mistake of buying the DVD of the first two seasons for my girlfriend.

That meant I spent the entire holidays in 2012 watching the first two seasons whether I wanted to or not.

To my surprise, I ended up enjoying the episodes enough to voluntarily get hooked on season three, which ended tragically with the death of Matthew (Dan Stevens), the husband of Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) in a car accident.

Naturally, how Mary is coping is at the heart of the two-hour season opener tonight on WNED-TV that sets in motion the changes going on in the lives of the Crawleys and citizens everywhere.

As one character tells Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith), the Dowager Countess of Grantham, early tonight, "it's a changing world."

"You don’t have to tell me," she replies.

I don't have to tell you that fourth seasons of popular series can have a wee bit of trouble capturing the magic that made them so popular in the first place.

And "Downton" is very popular locally and nationally. It has gotten about the same rating locally as one of broadcast TV's best dramas, "The Good Wife," which plays opposite it (and next Sunday's episode  features some new music from Bruce Springsteen).

I didn't take notes while watching the seven episodes with SuperFan (my girlfriend) and I generally don't want to tell you too much about what happens in the aftermath of Matthew's death.

I will tell you I liked the episodes, but didn’t love them. They might have had something to do with knowing about the surprises and it might have something to do with the repetitive and depressing elements involving the characters.

There still is something about Lady Mary that attracts men. It's got to be her looks because her demeanor certainly is as cold as the Buffalo weather. She is even less attractive when she is depressed and concerned she won’t be a good mother. To be honest, I am getting a little tired of her act.

Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) still can’t catch a break. To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of her pain.

Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), the American-born mother of Mary and Edith and wife of Robert, a/k/a Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), is still sweet and compassionate. To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of her sweetness.

Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the son-in-law who used to be a chauffeur and is still dealing with the tragic death of his wife, tries to do the right thing but still makes mistakes. To be honest, I'm getting a little tired of his mistakes.

Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), who run the place, still disagree about how to treat people even though deep down you know they care for each other.

Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt) and Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), who now are married, again have some very tough issues to death with. I'm getting a little tired of watching them in such pain and dealing with terrible situations.

Matthew's mom, Isobel (Penelope Wilton), remains one of the series' most caring characters. I’m getting a little tired of her kindness.

Violet is still dryly funny, especially when putting her stuffy, sexist son Robert in his place. Her best line of the season occurs early tonight when she is asked if she is trying to sell poor Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) as a servant to a friend. “As a Chinese laundryman,” she cracks. 

At least I am never going to get tired of Violet.

I better stop now because there are too many characters to summarize.

I will just add that Lady Rose (Lily James), Violet’s great niece, has a delicious rebellious role that spices things up in the stuffy Crawley household. Lou Grant would say she's got spunk.

And things need to be spiced up because "Downton" is a very, very talky show with a minimum amount of action and the season's new characters don't add much to the proceedings.

In the past, I've called the series "Dallas" with better accents.

As much as I still enjoy "Downton" at some level, I just wish it had better and less depressing story lines this season. Rating: 3 stars out of 4



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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

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