“Downton Abbey” airs at 9 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 3-March 6, on GPB.
Episode 1 this Sunday is approximately 75 minutes long and will be preceded at 8 p.m. by a new special, “Countdown to Downton Abbey.” Hosted by Broadway star Kelli O’Hara, “Countdown” includes exclusive season 6 clips and cast interviews, as well as footage from the recent tribute to “Downton Abbey” by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Immediately after episode 1 concludes at around 10:15 p.m., another special “Downton Abbey: A Celebration,” will air on GPB.
The other Force awakens …
The “Star Wars” of television, “Downton Abbey,” returns for its sixth season on PBS on Sunday. Set in its own version of a galaxy far, far away — a circa-1925 British country estate that’s lousy with servants and entitled types in every sense — the show that’s launched a thousand Dame Maggie Smith quips, won a dozen Emmys and even broken viewers’ hearts on occasion (we’re looking at you, dead Matthew Crawley) is now about to do so permanently.
After a two-hour episode on March 6, “Downton Abbey” will sign off for good.
“It’s heartbreaking to me,” Farrellinea Felton of Villa Rica confided during “An Evening at Downton Abbey,” a suitably swank preview party that Georgia Public Broadcasting threw at downtown Atlanta’s 200 Peachtree building last month. Like many of the 1,200 attendees, Felton had shown up dressed head to toe in elegant 1920s party attire and now she chuckled, “I think maybe I’m in denial it’s ending.”
If it must end — season 6 aired earlier in the U.K., concluding on Christmas night — at least it will end satisfactorily. That comes directly from Jessica Fellowes, author of six “Downton” companion books, and the niece of series creator and writer Julian Fellowes.
“Season 6, people will be happy to hear, will be a season of resolutions,” Jessica Fellowes said in an interview before “An Evening at Downton Abbey,” which she attended. “We’ll have a sense of an ending. (Julian Fellowes) is conscious that people want some things tied up, though not always neatly or perfectly. But he also leaves us with the idea that Downton Abbey is a world that still goes on.”
Anything else, it seems, just wouldn’t be British.
“I have a very good friend in Manchester, England, and she said, ‘Remember, it’s an English story, not an American one.’ So I know everything’s not going to end happily,” said Wayne Martin, another “Downton” devotee from metro Atlanta who was at the GPB event and saw some benefits to there being no seventh season. “Do we really want to see them go through the crash of 1929? Let it end with what will still be something of a grand period.”
Grand or not, “Downton Abbey” has been good for the careers of much of its cast — not to mention people named Fellowes. Over here, it’s “the highest-rated PBS series in history and we have gained so many new viewers through it,” GPB President and CEO Teya Ryan announced at the start of “An Evening at Downton Abbey.”
Hundreds of guests paid anywhere from $200 to $500 apiece to attend an elegant sit-down dinner with Jessica Fellowes, bid on big-ticket silent auction items and feast on a cake that was a frosted doppelganger for Downton’s butler Mr. Carson. That was preceded by a sneak preview screening of Sunday’s episode 1, to which hundreds more lucky fans had snagged free passes. And the episode didn’t disappoint, cramming in blackmail, a murder investigation, lotsa sex talk and a “Norma Rae”-like protest speech. Here are five non-spoilers to know about it:
- It’s funny. Really funny: Especially the one-on-one, super awkward conversations between Carson and Mrs. Patmore, the blustery cook played by Lesley Nicol (who charmed during an interview here last year). We’ve never known Mrs. P. to be at a loss for words, but then again, she’s never had to go where she’s trying to go here. Let’s just say Dr. Ruth has nothing to worry about, competition-wise.
- Unless Anna’s onscreen, and then it’s sad. Really sad: The first time we see the long-suffering ladies’ maid, she’s — what else? — crying. And, as usual, she’s reluctant to discuss what’s bugging her with her equally long-suffering husband, Bates, valet to the Earl of Grantham. Julian Fellowes only seems happy when those two are unhappy. But at least it looks like season 6 will feature a better, more believable explanation for “Downton’s” Debbie Downer to be so sad than her simply being unjustly accused of murder, as happened last season.
- “My Lord” is starting to sound more like Bernie Sanders: OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Still, it was only recently that the Earl of Grantham was insisting the servants iron his morning newspaper and pouting that tuxedos at dinner was worse than “casual Fridays.” Now, though, he’s padding around downstairs in the servants hall fetching his own midnight snacks and saying things like “Who lives like we used to?” without his usual self-pity. It’s amusing, especially when he correctly guesses that that big cold thing in the corner is a refrigerator. But there’s also lots of serious talk about downsizing in the first episode, and it seems likely that this final season will feature a fair amount of permanent economic and societal upheaval both upstairs and down.
- Women can’t have it all, especially women named Lady Edith: When last we saw the poor little rich girl, her missing fiance had been killed by thugs in Germany and the baby she’d birthed out of wedlock had come back to live at Downton (while still pretending to be Edith’s “orphan” ward). Seems like things haven’t gotten much better at the start of season 6 — when her aunt sweetly inquires, “Would you like a London life?” Edith grumps back, “I’d like a life.” (On the other hand, Edith says it while standing in the fabulous London flat she’s inherited from the dead fiance. Where, she humblebrags, she met Virginia Woolf awhile back. So maybe Lady Edith doesn’t need a life so much as an attitude adjustment … .)
- There’s a kiss. A great, romantic kiss: It comes right at the end of episode 1. And that’s all we’re going to say about that. Except for … it really makes you want to see episode 2!