January 7th, 2013
03:13 PM ET
With the amount of vaulted praise "Downton Abbey" has received, one might've braced for dashed expectations when season 3 premiered Stateside Sunday night.
But in the eyes of critics, at least, "Downton" is as addictive as ever.
The British series returned as a "Masterpiece: Classic" on PBS with a wedding on the horizon, although that didn't quite go as smoothly as planned.
This season also saw the arrival of Shirley MacLaine as Martha Levinson, mother of Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern), a fantastic face-off role against Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess.
But more importantly, the launch of season three saw "Downton" return to form, keeping its melodrama well-crafted.
As New York Magazine's Vulture observes in its review, "The series has been dismissed by some as an overproduced nighttime soap for Anglophiles, an impression unfortunately confirmed in its goofy second season."
But regardless of whatever season two's faults may have been, NYMag says, "'Downton' is still a pantheon-great series, filled with memorable moments; season three confirms that it is also, in its no-fuss, stiff-upper-lip way, a significant program, one that is as much about contemporary, multicultural, post-millennial Western civilization as it is about lily-white, class-bound England."
With the first and second seasons leading us through the sinking of the Titanic and World War I, we arrived back at the Downton estate as it braces for changes ahead in the 1920s. As a result, "season three of 'Downton Abbey' refocuses itself a bit more inward, and what it finds should please everyone who savors multi-layered characters and lush evocation of a vanishing way of life," said the New York Daily News.
Entertainment Weekly gave "Downton's" return a B+, noting in its review that creator Julian Fellowes "is relying more than ever on comic and poignant misunderstandings, extreme British reticence, and class warfare."
One also can't accuse him of "pandering to American audiences by adding Oscar winner Shirley MacLaine as a guest star," EW continues. "Her appearance on the series is handled with the same brisk expediency MacLaine herself brings to her crisp line readings."
The Los Angeles Times found that, "With its castle and costumes and superior production values ... the show is never less than lovely to look at, and most every second of it is deliciously acted, in a way you are meant to notice ... [It] is comfort food packaged as a gourmet meal, old soap in a Tiffany container. And after a sometimes wayward second season, with its distractions of war and influenza, the present series brings both a return to form and to its original subject matter: the preservation of the estate."
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