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The crazy families of Downton Abbey and Republic of Doyle are back

They're baaack! And it's your choice – the rough-hewn Doyles of St. John's or the rather hoity-toity occupants of Downton Abbey in dear old England.

On one, you'll hear the question asked, "What are you on, glue?" On the other, you'll hear a chap exclaim, "That treacle tart hit the spot!"

Downton Abbey (Sunday, 9 p.m., PBS, on Masterpiece Classic) returns to satisfy the lusts of people gripped by such shocking plot twists as Lady Sybil, the earl's daughter, running away with the chauffeur. This actually happened, as Downton devotees will know. Well, the couple is back and, as expected, certain people take a dim view of Tom the chauffeur, especially with him being Irish and all. In fact, a very cruel prank is played on him. He is also referred to, by a stuck-up knob, as "the grotty little chauffeur chap."

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That, however, is not the main event or anything remotely close to it. Crises abound in the new season of Downton, one that, frankly, looks increasingly creaky and dim as the story lines progress. There is the matter of how the household will survive without a footman. Below stairs, this is a major issue. A new footman must be hired and trained, sending Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) into a tizzy. He has no time for training "hobbledehoys," he exclaims, thereby resurrecting a fine old word to describe an awkward youth. Anyway, a new footman is indeed found, one Alfred Nugent, a terribly tall, handsome young man whose good looks will get him into trouble. You just know it. "You're too tall to be a footman; no footman should be over 6 foot 1," Carson says, sighing.

The real crisis, mind you, involves money. (I'm not giving much away here. It's in the promos used for season three.) As it turns out, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) gets the bad news early on in the first episode. "Are you really telling me that all the money is gone?" he asks a man in a London office. "I'm afraid so," is the sad reply.

And you, the reader, might wonder what happened. I can tell you: unwise investments in the Canadian railway! Now nearly skint, thanks to perfidious developments in Canada, the Crawley clan must "retrench," as Jane Austen put it in Persuasion. This is a bit of a challenge, since Lady Mary is about to have a bang-up wedding and marry that nice Matthew. Wedding giddiness is rampant, I'm telling you.

Anyway, the truly major twist is the arrival, at last, of Shirley MacLaine playing Lady Cora's rich and imperious American mother, Martha. As devotees of this nonsensical series have been anticipating with relish, that sets up a clash with the equally imperious Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, played with gusto by Maggie Smith. The arrival of Martha is rather bizarre. She steps out of a car dressed like a 1920s flapper and looking like she's been an early victim of bad Botox.

Other stuff happens. The dowager patronizes Americans, and Martha patronizes the English. Not exactly witty ripostes, however. Mr. Bates is still in the

hoosegow, but his stress is leavened by the attentions of housemaid Daisy, who has an almighty crush on him. Yes, as ever, Downton Abbey is silly rubbish presented with formidable skill.

Meanwhile, in other nonsensical but enjoyable series, Republic of Doyle (Sunday, 9 p.m., CBC) also returns and in its new Sunday-evening time slot. Just as Downton has the ceaseless, tortured romance of Matthew and Lady Mary, Doyle has the maddening relationship between Jake Doyle (Alan Hawco) and Sgt. Leslie Bennett (Krystin Pellerin). Mind you, Jake doesn't mope when he discovers, in the first episode, that Leslie has vamoosed from St. John's. Instead, he starts chatting up her replacement, Officer Monica Hayward (Patricia Isaac). Such is life in Doyle land.

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There is also the matter of Jake's beloved Pontiac GTO having gotten blown up last season and a replacement being needed. Oh, and Des Courtney (Mark O'Brien) was shot in the stomach, making him more annoying than usual.

But what transpires first is the arrival of a Doyle cousin from Ireland, played with broth-of-a-boy energy by Angus Macfadyen. (Macfadyen is Scottish, making the accent a bit weird.) It seems this guy's son has gone missing, probably in Newfoundland, and he's probably in trouble. There ensue multiple shenanigans involving car chases, fistfights and gunplay, but nothing serious. In fact, the most serious element might be the revelation that that Tinny Doyle (Marthe Bernard) is now a police cadet, and is seen wielding a gun. Honestly, the Doyles are a mad crowd.

On Republic of Doyle, the language is more colourful than on Downton, the characters are actually more plausible, and the setting is far more striking. Also, there's no guff about servants and masters and complicated stuff about inheritances.

But it's your choice. Now, choose carefully.

All times ET. Check local listings.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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