Downton Abbey: what the fuss is all about

 @ibtimes on January 07 2012 5:36 PM

When Downton Abbey was announced as the winner of all those awards -- six, out of 11 nominations -- at last year's Emmy ceremony, most viewers were probably wondering a) what Downton Abbey was and b) if someone had left an extra w out of the title.

But as the Upstairs, Downstairs-ish British drama prepares to debut its second season on PBS Sunday (check local listings for time and channel), plenty of TV fans have taken the time to catch up with the seven-episode first season on DVD and Netflix.

And if you've remained one of the Downton Abbey uninitiated, don't let that scare you away from season two. Here are 12 things you need to know to be ready to take the journey down Abbey road:

1 -- It really is Downton, not Downtown. Downton Abbey refers to the (fictional) North Yorkshire estate that houses the wealthy Crawley family and their servants. Highclere Castle, the 61-bedroom Victorian manse where all the upstairs scenes of the show are filmed, is an hour outside London and is open to the public.

2 -- Season one begins in April 1912, the day after the sinking of the Titanic. The real-world tragedy factors into the plot, as the Earl and Countess of Grantham -- the Crawleys -- have three daughters, no sons, which means there's no male heir to inherit their fortune and the Downton Abbey estate. They had arranged for their oldest daughter, Mary (Michelle Dockery), to wed her cousin, which would have kept their titles, fortune and estate in the family, but the cousin was among those who died in the Titanic sinking.

3 -- Season one ended with the declaration of World War I, which factors heavily into the storylines of season two. Downton Abbey, for instance, becomes a recovery center for wounded soldiers, which unsettles Countess Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) -- who feels like she's losing control of her home -- and Earl Robert (Hugh Bonneville) -- who's upset that he's too old to join in the war efforts.

4 -- Abbey is a lush and lavishly produced costume drama, but even viewers who don't usually tune in for Masterpiece Theater drama may enjoy the soapy, humorous elements of the show. Lady Mary's love life, for instance, provides both, as she is seduced by a visitor to Abbey, who then dies in her bed. Public knowledge that the unmarried Crawley lost her virginity to a stranger would prove to be scandalous, so Mary's mom and head housemaid Anna help her carry his dead body back to his bed. Later, Mary and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), the new apparent heir to the family fortune, head toward coupledom, and their entanglement continues to play out, in some surprising ways, in season two.

5 -- There's drama and romance downstairs, too. Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), the injured war vet hired as the Earl's valet, has a thang for Anna (Joanne Froggatt). The feeling is mutual, but their path will be a rocky one in season two, as a blast from Bates' past puts their romance -- and his life -- in jeopardy.

6 -- And there's upstairs/downstairs romance. Crawley daughter Sybil (Jessica Brown-Findlay) and family chauffeur Tom Branson (Allen Leech) were friendly in season one, and become friendlier in season two, as events surrounding the war lead them to believe the social barriers to them being a couple are breaking down.

7 -- Maggie Smith won an Emmy as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her role as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, a.k.a. Earl Robert's feisty, meddling mama. Violet has an uneasy relationship with her daughter-in-law, Cora, even though it was American heiress Cora's money that helped ensure the Crawley family's stature. When the Titanic deaths threaten to take Downton Abbey and the family's money away from Cora and Robert's daughters, Violet and Cora team up to make sure that doesn't happen.

8 -- Downton Abbey baddie Thomas (Rob James-Collier), the mansion's first footman and a constant schemer, resorted to blackmail and framing people for crimes they didn't commit to try and get his own way. He wanted Bates' job and framed him for stealing, unsuccessfully, to try to get it, and blackmailed the Duke of Crowborough, his former lover, with exposing their gay affair. In season two, Thomas signs up for the Medical Corp in an effort to avoid battle, and when that doesn't work … well, he's got a scheme for that, too.

9 -- Season one of Downton Abbey is in the Guinness World Records book for the Highest Critical Review Ratings for a TV Show after receiving a 92 out of 100 score on Metacritic.

10 -- The series was created by Julian Fellowes, the Oscar-winning writer of Gosford Park. In fact, in the book The World of Downton Abbey -- written by Julian Fellowes' niece Jessica Fellowes -- he says fellow Downton producer Gareth Neame helped spark the idea for Downton Abbey when he suggested Fellowes revisit the territory of Godford Park, but for television.

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