The fifth season of “Downton Abbey” won't premiere on PBS until January 4, 2015.
That's a long way away and, by that time, many of you will have already watched the full season through illegal means (or legal if you happen to live in England).
On Tuesday (July 22) evening, the Television Critics Association is going to get at least a taste of Season 5. Since the show is still in production, creator Julian Fellowes is absent, sending Gareth Neame in his stead.
Similarly, much of the cast is shooting Across the Pond, but we've got Laura “Lady Edith” Carmichael, Michelle “Non-Stop” Dockery, Joanne “Anna” Froggatt and Allen “Branson” Leech.
Click through and follow along with my live-blog. Don't expect too many spoilers.
7:15 p.m. We're' being strung along by an assortment of other “Masterpiece” productions, none of which is “Downton Abbey.”
7:22 p.m. “I feel a-shaking of the ground I stand on,” Carson says. Edith doesn't want Mary's pity and her secret could come out! The Dowager Countess is having trouble with her servant. All the men love Lady Mary. Men on horses! Lady Mary on a horse! Rose has a new beau! Lady Isobel has a suitor! Rade Serbedzija! And he has a past with the Dowager Countess!
7:24 p.m. Scenes from the new season… Spoilers may ensue.
7:25 p.m. Now we're seeing a scene with Lady Mary chatting with whichever suitor isn't Tony. They're bantering about her choice. Will she choose sex or love?
7:25 p.m. A Lady Edith scene. She's with Drewe, who took in Edith's daughter last season. Edith has been showing an interest in the girl, named Marigold. Drewe knows her secret and isn't judging her. “We need a way for you to live the truth, without telling the truth,” he says.
7:26 p.m. Scary Mr. Bates is talking to Anna about how nobody will threaten her again. “I'll make certain you're safe,” says the man I suspect of multiple murders. They're talking about children. And Anna even smiles!
7:27 p.m. Branson is chatting with Robert after a dinner. He had a beau to dinner, Branson is. Was it the teacher from last season? It's is, indeed, Ms. Bunting! Robert worries that she's making him “angry” again.
7:29 p.m. The first question is for Gareth and Laura about the rumor that Edith is Rosamund's child. Carmichael says that the rumors come from the conversations between Edith and Rosamund last season. Neame suggests it's an extension of the rumor that Prince Harry isn't actually Diana and Charles' son. Carmichael says that she and Rosamund and the Dowager represent the non-brunette line of the Crawley family. “I don't think there's any truth in it, no,” she says.
7:32 p.m. Michelle says that one new character comes to the house and causes trouble. “She's looking for something and she may find it,” Allen Leech says. She's a character who has been mentioned previously. Richard E. Grant's character is also looking for something. That was not insightful.
7:33 p.m. How many seasons does “Downton” have in it? Neame says it'll be as long as they have an audience and the desire to tell stories. Or he agrees with the questioner suggesting it.
7:34 p.m. Does Anna know/suspect? that Bates is a multi-murderer? “There are a lot of questions for Anna and Bates still,” Froggatt says. “There's this thing between them where they both know they're not quite being honest with each other,” Froggatt says. She says that in her heart-of-hearts she thinks Bates is innocent, but she has doubts, “this niggle,” she says. “She sort of can't leave it alone. I guess it will all unravel,” she teases.
7:35 p.m. Who will Mr. Bates murder this season? “All bets are off,” Neame says.
7:37 p.m. “She's very complex. She's impulsive, so she makes these decisions and then once she goes through with it, she looks back and she realizes it wasn't quite the right decision,” Dockery says of her character. She says Season 5 is The New Mary and “she's got a bit of her bite back, which we had in Season 1.” “This series is a lot more fun, so I'm enjoying it,” she teases.
7:37 p.m. Neame teases that even though our clips dwelt with old storylines we have “really substantial new twists and turns.” Well, OK. And we got lots of clips from the Upstairs storylines because we have more Upstairs people on the panel. Duh.
7:38 p.m. What can name tease? “The unicorn farm no one expects,” Leech says. “We were saying that it feels harder this year to talk about than any other previous series,” Carmichael says. Dockery suggests that there are too many changes to discuss. Neame says that the stakes are higher because of how well we know this world. He says that Mary's choice and her second relationship decision is more complicated than the first. Neame says that Leech remains a guy in no-man's-land and the stakes are higher. “As the series has progressed, the stories have become more personal,” Leech says. “It's an individual journey for each character moreso than it ever has been before,” Leech adds. Froggatt is proud of Season 5, “There's new, there's old, there's those stories we want to find out about and there's new stories as well,” Froggatt adds.
7:41 p.m. We begin six months after the Christmas Special. Tangible information!
7:42 p.m. There have been reports that certain contracts are up. Have those deals been resolved or will character destinations been based on who will be available later? “Yes, it did occur to us to find out if we could keep our actors… Yes, we've all come to a comfortable arrangement that is mutually beneficial,” Neame says. “You're expecting the Downton Abbey Red Wedding, aren't you?” Leech cracks.
7:44 p.m. Will Shirley MacLaine or Paul Giamatti return? “They're not in Season 5, but they may well be in future seasons of the show,” Neame says.
7:44 p.m. Do they read reviews? “I think shows are now so commented on,” Neame says. “In a way, you need to look at the thing as a whole,” he says. “You can't really write or create a show on the basis of that,” Neame says. “All you can do is focus on the job in hand,” Carmichael says. “People are still watching. That's the dream, really,” Carmichael says. “I actually write a review for each episode,” Leech says.
7:46 p.m. Reviews aside, what did Neame think of Season 4 and what needs to change? “You're always learning,” he insists. “On balance, I really loved Season 4,” he says, calling it “one of the strongest seasons we've ever had.” He looks back at Season 2, saying that World War I caused them to leave the Downton environment, while Season 4 is more “core Downton.” “I'm not saying 'Everything we've done is perfect. We wouldn't change a thing,'” he promises.
7:48 p.m. “I can drive,” Leech says of things he has in common with Branson. Leech notes that he only signed on for three episodes in the first season. “The character's been on an incredible journey,” he says. “When her character died, I thought that might be it for me as well,” Leech says of the demise or poor Lady Sybil. But he still expects bad things. “I'll be honest. I'm expecting to meet a truck on a narrow lane…”
7:49 p.m. What does Carmichael think of people viewing Edith as “The Ugly Sister.” “It's not as bad as being a maid, is it?” Froggatt answers for her. “It's a character you play,” Carmichael says. “I don't feel targeted,” she insists. “It's part of your job to play and inhabit the character and Edith has been less fortunate,” Carmichael says. “I think a lot of this is the power of the storytelling,” Neame insists. Another example of that? Hugh Bonneville is too young for his character, but you don't question it if you go with the story. Carmichael is also pleased that Edith has carved a world for herself as a writer. [I interviewed her and we talked about that.]
7:52 p.m. Time to talk about Anna's rape. How did Froggatt feel about that storyline? Froggatt says that the writers wouldn't tell her specifically before the season, only teasing that something really big was coming. “Yeah. I was very surprised when I read the script,” she says, noting that she viewed it as a huge responsibility. She wanted any viewer who had gone through a similar experience to know how seriously she took it. “That's the responsibility I felt on my shoulders and anything else is sort of beyond my control at that point,” she says. Froggatt did research to find out about women going through that ordeal in that time period. She says she's received “a small number of letters” from women who had similar experiences. Those women felt that they could connect. Neame says that people often view as a “soft” or “witty” show, but they've had “hard” storylines. He calls the death of Mr. Pamuk “an important storyline.” Neame felt the storyline was valid because of characters who are in vulnerable positions because of power and calls. He says that research has showed them how vulnerable to women in this period were, in particular. He reminds us that Matthew's death aired on Christmas Night and the reaction was… loud. “We do not underestimate how beloved these characters are,” he says.
7:57 p.m. Are they still resisting social media and the immediacy of it? Leech says he's the most active on Twitter. “I've learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut till January,” Leech says of spoiler-phobic Americans. “You have to be very careful and it is, it's trial by error,” Leech says. “At home it feels like a hobby that you either get or you don't get,” Carmichael says, noting she uses social media as a tool to announce charity things. “Alan's very funny on it. You should follow Alan,” Carmichael says. “I set up a Twitter account…” Neame says. “I blocked you,” Leech jokes. Neame hasn't tweeted a single time. Froggatt just joined Twitter. “It's actually been a really positive experience. So far. I'm sure at some point I'll get somebody telling me things I don't want to know,” Froggatt says.
8:00 p.m. Do they have favorite rooms on set? Leech likes the Great Hall because it allows for movement. He calls sitting in the dining room for 11 hours straight “a little soul-destroying.” Carmichael likes the staircase in the Great Hall. Dockery says that the staircase brings her back to a scene in the first episode in which the three sisters came down the stairs and got the giggles. Leech teases that there's a scene this season that echoes that scene.
8:02 p.m. “We find that very funny,” Dockey says of fans who want Mary and Branson to get together. Leech dubs them “Braries” and teases that they're becoming closer this season in their question to bring Downton into sustainability. “In that they kinda solidify their friendship,” Branson says. “And they're both looking for love,” Dockery says. “But not with each other,” Leech clarifies quickly.
8:04 p.m. A long, long question about how Americans are too stupid to understand that the accents on “Downton” are different and speak to class. Neame says he heard a dubbed French-Canadian version and that they found a French-Canadian actress to play Mrs. Hughes with something resembling a Scottish inflection. He's impressed by the versions in different languages and how well the show has translated. Neame says that the two “tribes” in Downton are so clearly defined and that makes them easy to relate to. And Neame thinks it doesn't matter if we don't get the accent differences. “We're incredibly high-pitched as a cast,” Leech says of the German version in which they all sound like Pee-Wee Herman.
8:07 p.m. What of Carson and Mrs. Hughes. “We all hope that they get together,” Leech says. “But who knows? They might not.” Dockery replies.
8:07 p.m. “I think Mary would like to see Edith happy. Eventually,” Dockery says. “After her,” Leech emphasizes. “They're competitive. They obviously were as children. Mary's mean to Edith, especially in this series,” Dockery promises. Carmichael and Dockery enjoy playing their fights.
8:09 p.m. A question about getting used to costumes. The women don't have to wear corsets anymore and the men still wear starched shirts. As a result, things have become more comfortable for the ladies. “There is a ritual. It's like armor,” Leech says. Leech says that he and Robert James Collier have a regular competition to see who can get into their suits the fastest. Leech says his record is 2:53 (minutes) and he wins because Collier talks too much.
That's all, folks…