Downton Abbey Renewed for Season 3

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Here’s some great news to anyone addicted to Downton Abbey, the U.K. period drama set in the early decades of the 1900s, about an aristocratic family and the household staff who wait on them hand and foot. The show has been picked up for a third season—uh, I mean “series”—consisting of eight episodes that will follow the Crawley household into the roaring, post-war 1920s. The second season, also eight episodes, is just about to wrap up its initial run in Britain, and will premiere in the U.S. on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater on January 8, 2012.

What makes Downton Abbey, which swept the Emmys in the miniseries or TV movie categories, so delicious? For starters, there’s nothing stodgy about it, as each scene is filled with the titillating promise of sex or death—and, on the rare occasion, both. Sibling rivalries, conniving coworkers, whirlwind romance and forbidden love—all of it plays out against the grounds of a stunning English estate in rapid decline. There’s also an obsessive amount of attention paid to detail: A meal service, a fox hunt, or simply getting dressed for the day with the help of one’s valet are all transformed into visual poetry. (There have been complaints that the second season has incorporated several anachronistic turns of phrase, with one character even going so far as to exclaim, “As if!” But seeing as it hasn’t aired in the U.S. yet, I’ll reserve judgment.)

And then, of course, there’s Dame Maggie Smith, who plays Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham—the uppity grand matriarch of the Crowley clan. Smith is clearly having the time of her life delivering the stinging and hilarious dialogue written for her by series creator Julian Fellowes (who won an Oscar for Gosford Park). The role earned her the 2011 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. Two more seasons! Hooray.