By Jill Vejnoska
Say hello to the Dowager Cake-ess!
The hottest ticket in town Thursday night was for GPB’s sneak preview of the first episode of Season 5 of “Downton Abbey.” More than 500 people snagged free passes to the screening held in the Fox’s Theatre’s classy-enough-even-to-please-Carson-the-butler’s Egyptian Ballroom. Another 200 or so folks paid $100 and up to attend the VIP party afterwards where “Downton” star Maggie Smith herself was in attendance.
Well, OK, Smith — who’s already won a few Emmys and Golden Globes for her tour-de-snark performance as the string-pulling, deflating-quips-dispensing Dowager Countess of Grantham — wasn’t actually there. Instead, Atlanta-based “cake and chocolate artist” Karen Portaleo sculpted her likeness in a cake that drew raves. But when Portaleo (who said she’d “binge watched” previous seasons of “Downton” in preparation for baking) first started slicing into her creation, there were unsettled murmurs from the crowd, which knew one cuts up the Dowager at one’s own peril.
On that note, Maggie once again appears to be in fine form in Season 5, which premieres on GPB on Sunday, January 4. Having gorged on episode 1 at the screening (not to mention a big ol’ chunk of the Dowager Cake-ess’s shoulder afterwards), we offer five tantalizing tidbits to whet your appetite for what’s to come:
1. Upstairs, Downstairs, Who-knows-anymore-stairs? It appears this season will involve a fair amount of role reversal, with some of the servants rising above their once humble status and some of the aristocrats being put in their place at times. While we don’t mean to imply that Mrs. Patmore is suddenly eating bonbons in the library and demanding Countess Cora bring her tea, look for Carson the butler to get a plum assignment that once would have automatically gone to the increasingly bewildered looking and anachcronistic Lord Grantham and for Daisy the kitchen maid to start studying high-falutin’ arithmetic. Can a new job for her as Chancellor of the Exchecquer be far behind?
2. Who is Donk? That’s the name of a sorta-new character introduced early on in Episode 1. His appearance is brief, but memorable. Is he yet another potential beau for Lady Mary? Or perhaps the Downton chauffeur-by-day, professional-wrestler-by-night-in-Ripon-who-goes-by-the-ringname-Donk? Our lips are sealed.
3. Speaking of Lady Mary, she may not turn out to be much of a lady after all. The now-rather-merry-widow receives a somewhat startling proposition from one of her suitors in Episode 1. What’s more, she seems
to be considering it. It is 1924, after all, and as the mother of Downton’s heir muses, it’s rather obsolete to consider marrying someone for life when you haven’t even . . . well, you know.
4. In a perfect world, Thomas the Evil Footman would work for the Dowager Countess. It hasn’t happened, yet, but we can certainly dream. To say that both Thomas (or “Barrow” as he’s known now that he’s been promoted to First UnderHanded Butler) and the Dowager are at their scheming best in this episode is like saying Lady Edith has had a couple of bad days in her life. Best of all, their motives could be pure at times . . . or their letting others think that might just be more proof of how truly, wonderfully devious they both are. Could you imagine them both knocking around that tiny (by Downton Abbey standards, anyway) Dowager House all day? Which one would survive?
5. Best new character introduced in Episode 1: Moseley’s hair. The good news is that the humorously hapless onetime-valet-to-now-dead-Matthew-Crawley appears to be taking on an expanded role in “Downton Abbey” (what his actual job is at Downton Abbey itself is rather unclear). The better news is, he’s decided to join some circa-1924 version of The Hair Club for Men. It becomes a running joke for viewers, but not for the starchier-than-ever Mr. Carson who disses him with a withering, “You look very Latin all of a sudden” and decides to keep him below stairs until he loses the cutrate Ricky Ricardo locks.