Fans of the hit British TV series Downton Abbey had a lot to laugh and cry about in the season three U.S. premiere Sunday night on PBS. But there were also some puzzling aspects too.
We watched the two-hour episode at the Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting at the University of Houston, along with around 30 other diehard DA fans. One viewer in the audience wore a flower-bedecked hat and white gloves; another sobbed uncontrollably as it appeared that Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens) were finally headed to the altar.
After the two-hour season opener ended, everyone stayed for the premiere of Manor of Speaking, a live half-hour show hosted by Channel 8's Ernie Manouse that promises to dissect every plot turn of the wildly popular drama during the season.
Mary and Matthew exhibit one modern touch: They fight over money.
For the first episode, Manouse was joined by former British vice consul Helen Mann, Rice University professor Robert L. Patten, society caterer Jackson Hicks and Downton Abbey superfan Roseann Rogers. They appeared on a set that resembled a drawing room library in an English country home — complete with a butler, although he seemed more like Lurch than Jeeves.
Among the topics they discussed based on audience questions:
1. Why couldn't unmarried women have breakfast in bed at an English country home in the early 1920s? Hicks said at the time married women had a more leisurely life than their single counterparts.
2. Why didn't voyagers on a cruise change clothes on the first night? Their trunks hadn't been unpacked yet, Patten said.
3. Why was Mary's simple ivory wedding dress with a high neck and sheer sleeves so understated? It was keeping with the style of the times, Rogers said. (But her jeweled headband was far flashier.)
4. How could Lord Grantham be so stupid to put all of his investments in Canadian railroad stock? At the time it seemed a good idea, until the head of the railroad died in the Titanic disaster in 1912 and the business went belly up. (It really happened.)
We were most looking forward to the highly anticipated showdown between Maggie Smith, who portrays Violet Crawley the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and Shirley MacLaine, who debuted as Martha Levison, the mother of Cora, Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern).
Indeed there were loads of one-liners between the two acting titans that had everyone laughing, although MacLaine's role wasn't fleshed out nearly enough before her series departure.
Here's hoping she'll be back.
While the Crawleys are worried about keeping the manor in the family, their servants have more pressing problems, like life and death. Bates remains in jail but shows his mean streak, Mrs. Hughes may have cancer and a couple of servants may be losing their jobs.
Upstairs, Matthew again finds out he will inherit a fortune — he's the luckiest Brit alive — but his high-mindedness nearly scuttles the wedding and makes him seem uncaring about his wife's needs to preserve her lifestyle.
But the couple does exhibit one modern touch: They fight over money.
As for the wedding, we've waited three seasons for Mary and Matthew to tie the knot — so it was a bit of a disappointment when series creator Julian Fellowes, who writes all the episodes, shut viewers out of the wedding, reception and honeymoon in France. All we got to see was the ride to the church.
But the couple's 15-second kiss on the night before the wedding — with their eyes closed because it's bad luck for a prospective groom to see his bride before the ceremony — was so romantic that it almost makes up for being shut out of their big moment.