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Sunday December 21st 2014

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An Invitation to the Downton Abbey Manor

By Jennie McKeon

After two seasons, “Downton Abbey,” has a loyal and enthusiastic—perhaps even obsessed—fan base.  So it’s no surprise that PBS stations around the country are hosting special sneak previews of the season premiere.

Hosted by WSRE, Downton fans can dress up in their finest, enjoy light refreshments and door prizes while watching the first hour of season three, but you’ll have to wait until January 6 to see the full episode.

“A lot of PBS stations are offering the screenings,” said Robin McArthur, marketing director at WSRE. “We’re all very excited about the new season. We hope to reach non-traditional PBS viewers and reward the loyal fans.”

“Downton Abbey” is a first of its kind—a show on public broadcasting that has crossed over into pop culture.

“Nothing else has quite infiltrated pop culture,” McArthur said. “Maybe the Ken Burns documentary, ‘The War.’”

“Downton Abbey is that perfect storm of brilliant writing, a marvelous cast, beautiful costumes and a magnificent setting that just doesn’t come around very often,” said Marc Petersen, lighting director for WSRE-TV and “Downton Abbey” enthusiast.

The show centers around the comings and goings inside the Edwardian country house of Downton Abbey set in the early 1900s. The aristocratic Crawley family is not without drama.

“The story is fiction, but it’s very true to the time period,” McArthur said. “There’s drama and love stories. It keeps you hanging on with all the twists and turns and interwoven stories. You can’t wait to see what happens next.”

There’s also a history lesson packed into the episodes. In the first season, you see the Crawleys react to the sinking of the Titanic and in the second season you see how World War I affects England.

“The producers of the show seem to have sought to keep the storyline historically accurate in Downton Abbey, although that accuracy is a background to the more intimate, personal nature of the stories that comprise the series,” said Petersen.

The time period, Petersen says, is the perfect setting for drama.

“The onset of the First World War, and it’s profound effects on the experiences of the people across all lines of English society provide writer Julian Fellowes with fertile ground to weave inter-connected storylines that run the gamut from the bored upper class existence of the Crawley girls to the struggle to survive and ‘find a place in the world’ of the servants, footmen and maids of the Manor,” he explained.

Without even watching one episode, you may have heard or read about the high quality acting—especially from Dame Maggie Smith who plays Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham.

“If for nothing else, at least watch the show for her,” McArthur said.

Petersen, an actor himself, agrees.

“I’m so in love with Maggie Smith I can’t stand it,” he said. “Watching her is like an actor’s lesson in how to deliver a line. And she does it all without somehow dominating or stealing the scene. Take note, young actors: This is how Theatre is done.”

Joining the cast in the third season is Academy Award winner, Shirley MacLaine.

Petersen notes thought that all of the characters make a compelling case.

“Fellowes has developed characters that are very ‘complete’ people, such that you can find yourself really hating someone in one episode, but then coming to appreciate and understand their situation in a later one,” he said. “The relationship between Lady Mary and Matthew—an aristocratic dance that skirts (and deftly avoids) cliché and predictability is contrasted with the much simpler, and so much more sincere romance between Anna, the maid, and Mr. Bates, the valet. From a theatrical point of view, that combination of a wonderful script, and an all-but-perfect cast results in people you believe and conflicts you care about.”

If you’re suddenly wishing you had been tuning in for the past two seasons, WRSE is currently airing past episodes. You can also buy the series on DVD. McArthur warns that the season three screening might be not only hard to follow, but might give away major plot details.

“It might be a spoiler—actually it will most definitely be a spoiler,” she said. “If you plan on coming, hurry up and watch season one and two.”

Whether you’re a diehard fan or have been frantically trying to catch up, you’re encouraged to dress up in your best Downton attire.

“Wear a fancy hat or your best evening wear. It’s a fun, light-hearted way to celebrate ‘Downton Abbey,’” McArthur said. “I’m going to dress up. I can’t wait.”

By getting gussied up and attending the premiere, you’re not just supporting the show, but your local PBS station, too.

“We exist for the benefit of the community,” McArthur said. “WSRE is one of the few and shrinking locally owned media. Being non-commercial means that we have to look to other ways to fund our operations. This is done through the generous support of our community and donors like you. We hope that by these events we can turn friends into donors.”

DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON 3 PREVIEW SCREENING
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18
WHERE: Jean & Paul Amos Performance Studio, 1000 College Blvd.
COST: Free
DETAILS: You can find more information and watch a recap on Season 1 and 2 at wsre.org/downton