• July 26, 2014

‘Downton Abbey’ returns

Show in fine fashion as Season 3 starts

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Posted: Friday, January 4, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 8:52 am, Fri Feb 8, 2013.

Back in all its soapy, sparkly glory, “Downton Abbey” kicks off its much-anticipated third season Sunday night on PBS, and lots of crazy changes are in the air. Electric toasters? Women demanding to vote? Shirley MacLaine?

Egad, m’lord, what’s going on around here?

Yes, The Great War is over and progress is imminent — even in the stodgy, tradition-laden realm of British aristocracy. But no matter what changes come our way, “Downton” devotees surely will remain attached to this delicious melodrama because they love its characters.

Mary and Matthew. Anna and Bates. Lord Grantham. Carson. The Dowager Countess. We root for them. We talk and tweet about them. We obsess over them.

And that’s the primary reason “Downton Abbey” has become such a global phenomenon. The characters are part of our TV family now. And we’ll follow them to great lengths, even when the show delivers starchy dialogue, predicable plots and other flaws that tend to get our knickers in a knot.

As Season 3 unfolds, it appears that fans are about to be rewarded for their loyalty with a fabulous wedding. After subjecting viewers to their countless will-they-or-won’t-they ups and downs, Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens) are preparing to walk down the aisle. Break out the fancy frocks and fine china.

Adding to the reverie is the across-the-pond arrival of Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) mother, Martha Levinson (MacLaine). She brings a big, colorful blast of American brashness, and serves as a great sparring partner for Lady Violet (Maggie Smith).

Ah, but all is not bliss. It seems that Robert (Hugh Bonneville) may be in danger of plunging over his own “fiscal cliff” after learning that he bungled a major investment. Downsizing at Downton? Say it isn’t so.

Season 3 gets off to a fine and frothy start, even if it arrives in the wake of unpleasant off-screen news regarding the departure of a key cast member (no spoilers here). On screen, the only major misstep is the lingering breach between Anna (Joanne Froggatt) and Bates (Brendan Coyle) due to the latter’s jail sentence.

Free Bates? Please, just free us from this dreary plotline.

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