The first season of the period drama "Downton Abbey" got rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic, but most American critics have yet to see the second season of the PBS Masterpiece series, which arrives in the U.S. Jan. 8. Season 2 of "Downton" had a slightly rockier reception when it aired in the U.K. earlier this year, with some critics finding it a bit rushed. But the show remains a big hit in the U.K. and a PBS flagship on this side of the pond. (Don't fret that it's going anywhere -- it's already been renewed for a third season.)
As was evident in my Season 1 review, I greatly enjoyed the first season of "Downton," which follows the fortunes of Lord Grantham and his family and servants just before World War I. Sure, there were a few mildly cartoonish supporting characters scattered here and there in the drama, but there were also a host of terrific performances (all hail Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess Grantham) and a series of intriguing, intersecting relationships that gave the drama a vivid, even poignant emotional center. Even critics who weren't necessarily fans of costume dramas usually found that creator Julian Fellowes explored the great British obsession -- class -- with intelligence and skill.
I spoke to the cast of "Downton Abbey" a few months ago, and there's more to come from Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora), Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley), Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) and Siobhan Finneran (O'Brien). But in my earlier story, the cast talked about how, in Season 2, things have changed for the residents of Downton Abbey, a stately home that undergoes significant upheavals during World War I. As Fellowes says above in the video for Masterpiece on PBS, many things have indeed changed for the Crawleys and their employees, though the starchy British class system is still somewhat resistant to evolution.
"We start the new series pretty much in the thick of World War I," Stevens said of the show's return. "I think the bar is raised in the second [season], because the stakes are so much higher," added Dockery.
Stick with us for more interviews with the actors and for my review of Season 2 of "Downton Abbey," all of which will appear early here in 2012.
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