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Downton Abbey, Season Three: Are You Ready to (Tea) Party?

January 6, 2013 Finally, Downton Abbey fans, it’s time for Season 3, when the gloves come off and these tea partiers get ready to rumble! Well, not exactly. But, having seen a preview of episode one on Saturday morning as part of a KQED members’ special event, I can promise that the quips, especially from Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess, come thick and fast. Even Cora gets in a few snappy lines, and Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary continues with her martini-dry asides. We won’t spoil your fun, except to say that yes, this episode is even more madly soap-opera-ish than its predecessors (excluding, of course, the Titanic/amnesia/will-the-real-Patrick-Crawley-please-stand-up plot line of last season), with dire situations set up and then (mostly) snappily resolved in the time it takes to boil a kettle. Still, plenty of questions remain for loyal fans to ponder. Will the steadfast Anna channel her inner Lord Peter Wimsey and prove that Vera framed Bates to take the fall for her suicide? Will always-a-bridesmaid Lady Edith be reunited with her pre-war almost-fiance, the aged Lord Strallan? Will Sybil and her Irish firebrand husband return from Dublin, and will the rest of the Crawleys ever get used to calling him Tom (like an equal), and not Branson (like a servant)? Whose future will the nefarious O’Brian ruin next? And what lies ahead for everyone’s favorite kitchen maid, the conscience-stricken, unappreciated Daisy? (Keep an eye out, too, for some new faces below stairs: after all, as Amanda Dobbins writes, “Tea trays and dead Turkish diplomats do not carry themselves!”) As the Crawleys and their servants well know, even the most difficult of situations–midnight elopements, deadly flu epidemics, the wrong shirt–can be smoothed over with a good, strong cup of tea and its accompanying starchy treats. On Saturday, KQED members from all around the Bay Area who braved the very English chilly, rainy weather were rewarded with a Downton-worthy spread of croissants, fruit scones, fresh fruit, frittata squares, and tiny, crustless smoked-salmon and cucumber tea sandwiches, although we hardly think Mrs. Patmore–or even Cousin Isobel–would have countenanced the paper cups and tea bags standing in for the show’s Spode and Darjeeling. But there were hats aplenty, and a fun opportunity to snap pictures standing in front of a life-sized photo-mural of the full cast. So if you haven’t invited a bunch of Downton Abbey-loving friends over for a Sunday night viewing party, you should, since yesterday’s event proved that it’s a lot more fun to watch such a sweeping, soapy costume drama in a roomful of like-minded fans. Need some inspiration for the menu for Season 3? You can check out KQED’s Downtown Abbey page, with appropriate recipes for scones, Coronation Chicken, bread and butter pudding and more, or face the drama with a strong cocktail like The Bittersweet Mr. Bates. You can plan your menu for downstairs (“That treacle tart really hit the spot, thank you, Mrs. Patmore”) or upstairs (“Oh no, Robert, those cocktails look too exciting for so early in the evening”). Talking about the making of the original Upstairs Downstairs, the hit BBC series from the 1970s that set the stage for “big house” dramas like Downton Abbey, creator and lead actress Jean Marsh, who played head house parlormaid Rose, said the actors “in service” had it much better than their betters upstairs, at least when it came to food on the set: “We had lovely, untidy, real brown loaves and socking great big lumps of cheese, real Cheddar, big slabs of butter…eggs and bacon cooked by Angela Badley [who played the cook, Mrs. Bridges] on the set. And the poor upstairs people had grouse that had gone off and all their food was painted with glycerin to make to look good, and it was sitting around forever. They’d come onto our set and say ‘Can we have some bread and cheese?’ and we’d say ‘No, go away, it’s ours, be off with you!’


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