A guilty pleasure for many of us, frothy Brit soap opera "Downton Abbey" returns stateside January 5 on PBS (months after it's been seen by the lucky folks in the UK). (SPOILER ALERT: don't read on if you are not up to date.)
This is the series that left our jaws agape as it killed off at the end of Season Three not just one but two key characters. Young actor Dan Stevens ditched Matthew Crawley just after he was finally blessed with a newborn; Stevens wanted to move on with his career (he starred opposite Jessica Chastain in Broadway's "The Heiress" and in "The Fifth Estate" with more to come from directors Scott Frank and Tom McCarthy and a spot as Lancelot in "Night at the Museum 3"). This left show creator Julian Fellowes to pick up the pieces.
Front and center in Entertainment Weekly's annual winter TV preview issue is an Obsessive Viewer's Guide to "Downton Abbey," featuring season-by-season recaps, a special season four preview, interviews with creator Julian Fellowes, Maggie Smith's best "Downton" zingers and more.
Here's a review in the NYT:
The narrative this time around is even more stretched, derivative and repetitive than Season 3’s, but almost ingeniously so: It is both utterly predictable and surprisingly addictive. Julian Fellowes, who also wrote “Gosford Park,” has borrowed some of those plotlines to plump up the season’s narrative, but he has left out any of that movie’s cynicism.
We begin season 4 six months after Matthew's death as Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) remains in a slough of despond, reports EW. Violet, the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), and Branson (Allen Leech) both urge her to get up and about, while her father indulges her reticence to rejoin the world. "The moment I realized we could have a six-month gap," creator Julian Fellowes tells the magazine, "I realized we could also have a disagreement about how Mary's doing and how we should be looking after her...Mary herself is entirely torn. In one way she likes the fact that her father doesn't want to put her under any pressure. But in another way she gradually becomes aware that people are telling her that she has got to get a move on. You could say the rebuilding of Mary is the subtitle of the fourth series."
Other continuing story lines include a romance between Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and her newspaper editor Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards), as well as a look at the younger set in the form of misbehaving Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James), who is a tad fast. "I just wanted to have some story lines that would be inappropriate with older characters," says Fellowes. "If you suddenly had Edith running around dancing like a flapper and getting pissed, you would just think, 'Oh for Christ’s sake, pull yourself together.' Whereas because Rose is 18 or 19, you forgive it."