For some, ‘Downton Abbey’ rules the (air) waves

“Downton Abbey” starts its third season this weekend on public television. The ongoing drama surrounding an aristocratic family and the servants that tend to them was one of last year’s surprise television hits.

 Suzanne Levy is counting the hours to Sunday evening, when the historical soap opera begins its third season.

“I watch for a number of reasons. One is, I think the dresses are beautiful,” said the English native, now living in Philadelphia as a producer of reality television. “And the idea that you can change three times a day, and change into a beautiful dress just to have dinner, is wonderful to me.”

She is also intrigued by the way the program brings the political and social evolution of English society to life immediately after the first World War. The stark class divisions which give “Downton Abbey” much of its narrative friction does not represent modern Britain. The story line shows traditional social barriers beginning to erode.

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But the misty carryings-on of a mansion in North England is not everyone’s cup of tea. Another English expatriate, Sherrill Dodds, has been living in Philadelphia for 18 months. She says she did not care for “Downton Abbey” when she lived in England, and she doesn’t care for it now.

“Since I’ve been here, lots of people have asked me if I watch ‘Downton Abbey.’ Or encouraged me to watch,” said Dodds. “To be honest, it doesn’t hold a huge amount of appeal. Probably because, being British, I’m aware of the whole British landscape and the architecture. It’s common to visit these stately homes where it’s set. In some ways, I’m so steeped, culturally, in the architecture and landscape, I have no huge desire to watch it. “

Dodds says that when she watches television — even while in England — she prefers American programs: “The Sopranos” with its New Jersey accents, the western grit of “Deadwood,” the southern swamps of “True Blood,” and the jazz-inflected “Homeland.”

“Downtown Abbey” airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on WHYY.

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