Whew, I'm cutting it close this time. I always get behind in my viewing schedule when I travel and, even if this season was only 7 episodes long, this was actually a bit longer than your standard, 13 episode anime series. Actually, I watched this on Netflix which had the first and the last episodes listed as 66 minutes long but the other five only 48 minutes long, is that how long the show was in Great Britian or did PBS cut the episodes down again? I remember they made cuts to Sherlock, even the online streaming version (which I still think is silly) and I wouldn't put it past them to have done that here as well with such an odd set-up. In any case, thankfully I didn't feel like anything was missing here (like I felt might have been the case with Sherlock), well, except for the fact that Netflix doesn't have the second season streaming yet.
Summary: The show begins in April 1912 with the news of the sinking of the Titantic and the news that the heir to Downton Abbey, a cousin since the estate is entailed and none of the three daughters can inherit, has perished. And thus life at Downton is going through a state of upheaval as the family decides what to do next and new people filter into all parts of their lives.
The Good: The season may be a short one but wow does it pack a lot in. Spanning about two years in-universe, there are at least a dozen subplots and nearly every one of them is neatly and satisfying wrapped up (and those which aren't still come to a satisfying stop and I would have been annoyed if they had instead been rushed). The show makes great use of the time-period (I especially the liked the subplot involving the youngest daughter starting to become interested in suffrage and politics) and they characters all felt like they came from the time period (as opposed to the writer coming up with characters that inadvertently reflect more modern views and trying to squeeze them in anyway). All of the characters, likeable or not, were interesting and almost all of them grew and progressed as well, my hat is off to the writers for being able to do that with so many characters.
The Bad: This show should be watched without long gaps between episodes (you don't have to marathon it but don't wait weeks and weeks between episodes) since with nearly every named character having their own subplot that's well over a dozen plots to keep in mind. The show does a good job balancing them but it does dictate that the viewer should either planning on taking a few days to watch the whole show or taking some notes so they don't forget. I am a bit incredulous that some characters in the service stuck around as long as they did with their personalities, although that certainly happens in real life as well, and it does seem a bit strange that the family knows so many of the servants by name and does truly seem to care for all of them. There are some subplots that I would like to see continued in the next season, and I'm a bit worried they won't be given where this season ended, but I found this to be a rather strong show with few flaws to speak of overall.
The Audio: The show has one main theme that is played over the opening and ending credits that I quite liked, it managed to convey both the more relaxed life of countryside gentry and the more frantic life of their servants, and the music in the rest of the show worked well also. No other pieces really stood out to me but they worked well within their scenes.
The Visuals: This is one of the cases where I really prefer a live action show to a cartoon, the amount of detail in the setting and the costuming simply can't be replicated with anything but a huge budget in the animation world. The setting looks authentic and the costuming was gorgeous, normally I'm not a fan of Edwardian(ish) Era clothing but I'll have to give the period another look.
Fully intend to continue the show, although Netflix does not have it for streaming which does put a damper on my plans. However, it appears that Hulu will have it on Hulu+ soon and they offer one week free trials for it, I might be able to make that work out.....