TV Picks: Downton Abbey: Season four begins Jan. 5 on PBS

No spoilers

There's a strange energy arc in "Downton Abbey," premiering Sunday on PBS - with a bit of a leaden opening episode that ramps up into a bit of a whodunit and nailbiter towards the end.

It holds some shocking events, per usual pithy and witty Brit banter and loads of gorgeous interior and exterior shots. Now in its fourth season, "Downton" is the parallel upstairs-downstairs yarn weaving the lives of this wealthy Yorkshire family who lucky for them, have been reading the economic tea leaves and adjusting to a new Britain, one where class is less defining and vocational paths more fluid, especially for women.

Lots of change occurred in England after World War I. Notably a government examining the use of precious land for food and commodities and less lawn and eye candy gardens and grounds.  The taxman cometh.

In the USA, Prohibition is underway, and Lady Mary's husband Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) is now gone. His stoic erstwhile mum (and professional nurse) Isobel (Penelope Wilton), and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), are leveled by the loss in the first episode.

Time and writing cure the two who sort through the emotion of it all. Now Robert, the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and Tom (Allen Leech), are engaging Mary to help in keeping Downton a viable money making property so as to not lose any of it to the government. Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) bubbles along and has no real moments to speak of except spreading good cheer and organizing a Bazaar for the township.

For me, the best part of Downton is catching the zingers that the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) doles out like cards at a Canasta game. She's vile and hilarious, and her scenes between Isobel are gold throughout the entire series.

The changing Abbey and its land holdings deliver us Blake, who visits the Abbey and clashes immediately with Lady Mary. Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) shows up with his valet, Green (Nigel Harman), who is a key player in this season, an evil seed is an understatement.

Watch for the continuing strife with Mary's sister Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and silly entitled Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James), each of whom have annoying qualities that are equally as vexing. African American jazz singer, Jack Ross (Gary Carr), is also added to the mix to stir things up too. Carr does a fine job in playing his role in an eyes open and realistic way.

Downstairs we have the ongoing pining between Ivy and Daisy for Alfred (Matt Milne) storyline that has a unique development too.  Financial issues also underscore the problems for Cora's wealthy family in the U.S. where Cora's brother, Harold (Paul Giamatti), has gotten himself tangled up in the Teapot Dome Scandal.

Harold and Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine) are due for a visit in the finale on Feb. 23. Watch for outstanding scenes with Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt), Brendan Coyle as her husband, Bates, and of course Jim Carter as Carson, (pay attention to his eyebrows at all times). Cast favorite O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran) is gone, but her replacement is also under the thumb of the schemer Barrow. Also watch for the play between Lord Anthony (Tom Cullen) and Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden) who each percolate around Lady Mary, for different reasons. Sassy school teacher Sarah Bunting (Daisy Lewis) charms our Irish "socialist" Tom at a political rally, and Gary Carr is a bright spot as the jazz singer Jack Ross who is charmed by one of the available ladies.

Lots to look forward too!

Further Reading on M&C