America's favorite British period melodrama will return to televisions on our side of the pond Sunday night, as PBS airs the season three premiere of Downton Abbey. And we've been eagerly awaiting the show's return, consuming the media build-up in its entirety while also hoping to stay free from spoilers — they've already aired the entire third "series" over there — that might reveal what becomes of Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley. Here's a Downton Abbey reading list that will prepare any type of Downton fan for more Maggie Smith zingers and upstairs-downstairs drama.
For the critics: Maureen Ryan at The Huffington Post outlines what works in the show and what doesn't. Sure, some of her description of its "crimes" might make die-hards protest, but Ryan accurately critiques Downton for its flaws, while explaining how, despite all that, it wins her over — as it does us all.
For the people watchers: Want the inside scoop from the cast? That's what you'll get at this delightful New York feature, wherein the magazine's writers talk to a number of the stars of the show. Lesley Nicol, who plays the cook Mrs. Patmore, begged creator Julian Fellowes for a romantic storyline.
For the foodies: At the Washington Post, Becky Krystal explains how the food scenes on Downton come into existence, diving into culinary history, the logistics of the set, and, well, smells. Even though scenes include fish courses, there's no fish used: “I won’t name any names, but a couple of the actors didn’t feel brilliant with the smell of fish and mentioned it,” production designer Charmian Adams says.
For the worldly: Jeremy Egner of the New York Times explains how Downton became a truly worldwide phenomenon. Jim Carter, who plays butler Carson, was ambushed by a group of Asian tourists in Cambodia who cried out "Mr. Carson!"
For the supernatural: Shirley MacLaine, who guest stars this season, claims Highclere Castle, where Downton is filmed, is haunted, according to James Desborough of the New York Daily News. The legendary actress thinks "that a possible source of the castle’s supernatural energy may come from the time that artifacts from King Tut’s tomb were once stored in the castle’s bowels."
For the butlers: Jennifer Miller at Co.Create talks to a real-life butler about the show. His favorite character is Mr. Bates.
For prospective employees: The Los Angeles Times's Patt Morrison tells you whether or not you would have wanted to be on the staff of Downton if you were a member of the lower class in the late 19th or early 20th century. It was a difficult job, but ultimately not a bad gig, considering what else was out there.
For those interested in religion: The Jewish press was thrilled to find out that the PBS bio for the character Cora Crawley, the American-born Downton matriarch, noted that she was the daughter of one "Isidore Levinson." That name, writers speculated, made her Jewish! Alas, Renee Ghert-Zand of The Times of Israel shoots down that rumor, pointing out that though Isidore was Jewish, his wife, Cora's mother (played by MacLaine), was not, and their children were raised Episcopalian. Ghert-Zand, however, delves deeper and attempts to answer how likely, from a historical perspective, the scenario would be if Cora were indeed Jewish.
For those interested in sexuality: Out Magazine profiles Rob James-Collier, who plays Thomas the gay, scheming member of Downton's downstairs ranks. In addition to including swoon-worthy photos of James-Collier, the profile, written by Aaron Hicklin, discusses how this season will deal with Thomas's gay identity.
For fans of erotic fan fiction: Brianna Goldberg rounds up some steamy and some steamy-ish moments at Jezebel, culled from the dirty minds who write Downton fan fiction.