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'Downton Abbey' Begins Its Sixth And Final Season


Imagine for a moment it's 1925 instead of 2016. And you're living in a stately English manor.


MARTIN: Yes, of course, it's "Downton Abbey." The hit series about aristocrats and their servants begins its last season on PBS tonight. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has this review. And a heads up, there are no spoilers here. But there are details about the new season.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: For six seasons "Downton Abbey" has played a sly game, making its characters fret over social changes the TV audience knows will turn out well. The series, set in a stately English manor in the first decades of the 1900s, often worries over issues like premarital sex or women in the workplace. And this stuff can seem a little silly to modern ears. On tonight's episode, Lord Grantham discusses the size of the staff with the butler who runs his household, Mr. Carson.


JIM CARTER: (As Charles Carson) I must ask you to remember, my Lord, that there were six footmen when I first came here and five house maids. No we've got two of each and no kitchen maids at all. We must run this place as it should be run.

HUGH BONNEVILLE: (As Robert Crawley) I'm not asking you to wield a scythe. But, I mean, who has an under-butler these days?

DEGGANS: Who indeed. In another scene, housekeeper Elsie Hughes is worried about her upcoming marriage to Mr. Carson. In a talk with Downton's cook, Mrs. Patmore, Hughes reveals concerns about completing her wifely duties.


PHYLLIS LOGAN: (As Elsie Hughes) I hadn't fully considered all the aspects of marriage.

LESLEY NICOL: (As Beryl Patmore) I don't understand. What aspects? Oh, my lord. You mean...

LOGAN: (As Elsie Hughes) Yes.

DEGGANS: That leads to a wonderful bit of comedy as the women struggle to talk about sex with Mr. Carson, who holds the undisputed title as Downton's stuffiest shirt. But it also highlights the secret sauce that makes "Downton Abbey" so popular. Each season, as the characters wring their hands over a new trend, they echo what people fear today, that more permissive modern attitudes will eat away at traditional values. "Downton Abbey's" final season also offers scenes die-hard fans have been waiting for. Here, the often bullying Lady Mary finally has the argument with her doughty sister Edith that has been brewing for years. As Mary tries to apologize for a seriously cruel action, Edith tells her off.


LAURA CARMICHAEL: (As Edith Crawley) Who do you think you're talking to? I know you. I know you to be a nasty, jealous, scheming [expletive].

MICHELLE DOCKERY: (As Mary Crawley) Now, listen, you pathetic...

CARMICHAEL: (As Edith Crawley) You're a [expletive].

DEGGANS: But Mary, who's torn over a possible romance, also finds comfort in a talk with her grandmother, the usually sarcastic dowager countess of Grantham, played by Maggie Smith.


MAGGIE SMITH: (As Violet Crawley) You are the only woman I know who likes to think herself cold and selfish and grand. Most of us spend our lives trying to hide it.

DOCKERY: (As Mary Crawley) Oh, granny, please don't lecture me on sentimental virtues.

SMITH: (As Violet Crawley) Don't worry; don't worry. I believe in rules. But there is something else. I believe in love.

DEGGANS: "Downton Abbey" is, at its heart, a meticulously crafted soap opera. But its faults are often tied up in that very same soap opera formula. It's slow. It's repetitive. It's predictable. And the larger question, whether the idle rich are exploiting their working-class servants, is never really resolved. British TV has already aired the final season. So be warned, spoilers abound online. And the familiarity of the stories here is a telling sign. After six seasons, it's about time for "Downton Abbey" to close its doors for the last time. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 5, 2016 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous headline for this story had the incorrect title for the show Downton Abbey.