Note: This post discusses Sunday's Downton Abbey in detail, so skip it if you're behind!
At a time when Real Housewives and the horrific Honey Boo Boo get big ratings, it's somewhat reassuring that a thoughtful British period drama has also amassed a cult following.
Of course, Downton Abbey has its share of soapy scenarios, such as the prison love story between Anna and Mr. Bates and the drawn-out romance between Mary and Matthew Crawley. Last night's season premiere focused on M&M's wedding day, which comes with its share of hiccups - most notably, news that the family's finances are in trouble.
A bad investment leaves Lord Grantham distracted throughout the ep, which takes place in the spring of 1920. As his daughter plans a pricey ceremony, he's trying to cope with the loss of "the lion's share of Cora's fortune." Oddly, Cora seems OK with the news, even though it might mean the loss of the estate.
Sybil heads home for the nuptials but her husband, Branson, causes a stir with his frank political discussions. Matthew tries to calm the waters by making Branson his best man, though for a moment it seems the wedding might not take place at all. The reason: Matthew stands to inherit Lavinia's father's fortune, and Mary believes the money should go to help her family.
One of this season's biggest talkers is the casting of Shirley MacLaine as Cora's mother, Martha. Sure enough, her exchanges with Maggie Smith (the Dowager Countess) add a welcome dose of humor.
My main criticism of last night's two-hour installment was that, frankly, it felt like two hours. While most episodes of Downton seem to whiz by, this one felt a bit too sluggish, as if it needed a little editing.
What are your thoughts on Downton's return? Is the show still at the top of its game? Is Shirley MacLaine a good addition to the group? Leave your comments below (and remember the comment count is currently down, so it may display "0" when there are actually other comments sitting there).
If you missed the episode, watch the entire show on PBS.org.
Written By: Whitney Matheson, USA Today