A spoiler-free look at the return of ‘Downton Abbey’

Our friends are coming back! Our rich friends, and our poor friends, too.

The third season of “Downton Abbey” starts at 9 p.m. Jan. 6 on KCTS Channel 9, with a luxurious two-hour launch. It continues for seven Sundays, until its 90-minute finale Feb. 17 (one week before the Sunday Oscar broadcast, thank goodness!).

Be careful! Spoilers in the news abound. This entire story, however, is spoiler-free. Unless you haven’t seen seasons one and two.

A quick orientation is in order.

The Great War is over and the Spanish flu, which ravaged the countryside at the end of the war, spared Cora, the Countess of Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern), but took poor Lavinia (Zoe Boyle), Matthew’s fiancee.

I know it’s unkind, but this rather clears the way for Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, downstairs, the poor head housemaid, Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt) waits patiently for her Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), who is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Are the two destined never to find happiness?

The new season may not answer every question, but one thing is sure: A new character will provide a satisfying foil to the acid-tongued Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith). Shirley MacLaine joins the cast as Martha Levinson, Lady Cora’s very American mother.

If you’re getting in the mood, you still have a chance to watch the final episode of season two at 9 p.m. Sunday on PBS.

If that’s not enough, you can receive “Tea Times,” twice-weekly emails with “Downton Abbey” tidbits, highlights and recaps; go to kcts9.org/downton-abbey to sign up.

The website is a trove of information about previous episodes, the characters and the actors who play them.

So. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a wedding. But whose …?

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