TONIGHT: Downton Abbey returns

Lady Mary  (Michelle Dockery, left) looks for the baby off switch

Take a close look at Downton Abbey as it returns for a fourth season Sunday night (9/8c, PBS).
It’s a sneaky show. On the surface, it looks like an old-fashioned miniseries, a throwback to Upstairs, Downstairs, Brideshead Revisited and other period dramas from the ’70s and `80s.
As Jullian Fellowes explained last month in New York (during a screening at The New York Times Building), each episode moves as fast as any drama on television today. Fellowes, of course, is the creator and executive producer of Downton Abbey. He also writes every single episode, all by himself (his wife, Emma, acts as his informal story editor).
Fellowes designs each episode around three long scenes surrounded by dozens of very short ones. Most run as short as 40 seconds. It is a perfect recipe for this YouTube generation. If you`re bored or just not interested in whatever is happening at the moment, just wait half a minute and you`ll be in some other corner of the Abbey.
Shirley MacLaine returns this season, and Paul Giamatti does a guest turn. Maggie Smith continues to steal every scene. Elizabeth McGovern, High Bonneville,Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Penelope Wilton, Laura Carmichael and Allen Leech also star.
It was asked at the New York screening if PBS would ever bumped their schedule ahead to show the series day and date with it`s BBC release. Season Four has already aired in England, and in this leaky Internet age, spoilers abound.
That notion was quickly shot down, however, so don`t expect to get a quicker peek at Season Five in Canada and the U.S.
When the series returns Sunday we find Lady Mary (Dockery) in a deep funk after the tragedy at the end of last season. The second episode is a cracker, with a couple of shocking twists and it gets even juicier in episode three.
Downton Abbey runs through Feb.  23.

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