Downton Abbey is big, giant, transatlantic television success, but it's been trying its fans with each new plot twist and cliffhanger. With its fourth season about to air in Britain, the show's stars tried to make the case for why we should stick with the aristocratic soap opera at a Tuesday session of the Television Critics Association press tour.
In the U.S., despite an airdate that's months after the U.K., Downton has helped PBS become the little network that could in the ratings: as Tim Molloy at The Wrap reported PBS is the only broadcast network steady in the coveted 18-49 demographic, and it's actually up both in total viewers and in 18-34 viewers. But many viewers have also complained that the show just isn't what it used to be. At the start of the third season our Richard Lawson wrote that the show "perhaps entered into its own version of that perilously self-aware phase, too keenly cognizant of the Downton craze at the expense of fostering what created the craze in the first place." But at the TCAs, four of the leading ladies tried to calm any nerves, and what they revealed may restore some confidence in the show.
Things are looking up for Edith
Producer Gareth Neame said (per HitFix's live blog) that Lady Edith, ugly duckling sister of the Crawley clan, "becomes more active and dynamic in the series ahead." This is good news, Edith. With perhaps a little less earnestness, Julian Fellowes seems to be giving the character more of the rebellious sister role that now-deceased Lady Sybil took on in the first season as the accumulating misery of Edith was getting a little monotonous. Laura Carmichael certainly has more in her than Edith's persistent womp womp, so we're actually looking forward to see her become, in the words of Carmichael via Variety, "the Carrie Bradshaw of the ’20s."
Mary's moping, but also dating
Michelle Dockery, who plays the now-widowed Lady Mary, was as concerned as the average viewer that Dan Stevens' departure would be bad news for the series as a whole. "Initially I was concerned, but now I'm not," she said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "It's a very different [season] from what it could've been... She's slowly, over the course of the series, coming back to life. It's important for her to move on." But lest you think it will be all black dresses and withheld tears for Mary, she apparently is dating more than one person, Dockery revealed. This is the potential storyline that worries us the most. Mary in the past has been distinctly one note even when happy, so moping Mary could be deadly.
The show jumps ahead in time with this season spanning 1922 to 1923. Part of the pleasure of watching these characters was precisely how buttoned up they were. But just as Mad Men found some new energy when the 60s got a little more swinging, moving forward in the decade might just liven things up. ""A bit like the 60s, they didn't start in 1961, so we couldn't say yay, it's 1921, let's all shorten our skirts and go dancing," Neame said, per HitFix. "But now we're into the 20s." It's still early in the decade, but hopefully a slight culture clash will revive the series where it could use some life.