Even though Downton Abbey doesn't premiere in Houston (and the rest of the U.S.) until January 3, fans of the hit PBS series got a sneak look at the first episode of the final season. Houston Public Media held four standing-room-only screenings over the weekend — two in Houston in the Cristal Palace Spiegeltent at Bayou Bend Collections and Gardens and two in The Woodlands at Cinemark at Market Street — for more than 500 fans.
And on Tuesday night, they taped the first episode of Manor of Speaking, the locally-produced show that airs immediately after Downton on Houston Public Media TV 8, dissecting every plot twist of that evening's episode, with a surprise "superfan" — acclaimed singer Lyle Lovett. The Spring native loves Downton so much that he asked if he could appear on the episode that will be broadcast on January 3.
A party for the show's supporters at the HPM studios on the University of Houston campus followed. Many dressed for the occasion in boas, cloche hats, flapper dresses, bowlers, feathered headbands and other attire of the roaring '20s, the period when the final season is set. Attendees had each made a special financial donation to HPM in order to take part in the festivities.
Fans at the screenings were encouraged to dress for the occasion in a “Dress for Downton” costume contest to win guest passes to an upcoming taping of Manor of Speaking. Host Ernie Manouse and Manor of Speaking panelists Helen Mann and St.John Flynn participated in a special Q&A session with the audience at each screening. (The show now airs on more than 138 PBS stations.)
Fans were sworn to secrecy about what transpires in the premiere episode, but suffice it to say that there are some memorable one-liners from Maggie Smith, who plays the sharp-tongued Dowager Countess of Grantham, and some blushing plot twists involving housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Margaret Logan) and butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter).
The episode "wrapped up all the lingering story lines but set up where it's going," Lovett told the audience, who no doubt are saddened to see Downton come to an end but are eagerly looking forward to the final season.
Our favorite tweet from the opening episode of this season's Manor of Speaking: "Downton Abbey should have been called Game of Scones."