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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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Downton Abbey

PBS, Jan. 8 (check local listings for time) |


What’s that new building next to Downton Abbey? The proportions are off, the materials look cheap-is it prefab? Oh: It’s season 2. The first season of this Masterpiece import was 2011’s happiest surprise, a sumptuous period melodrama soaked in scandal and stoked by sharp, vivid performances. Now the rich, titled Crawleys and their servants are in the thick of World War I. That historic cataclysm proves too dire-at least in the first six episodes-to mesh with the series’ old-fashioned love story: the star-crossed romance of gorgeous Lady Mary and Downton’s presumptive heir, her distant relation Matthew. Outrageous twists were one of the first season’s great pleasures (one word: soap), but when they reflect the horrors of modern warfare, things become exasperatingly dopey. I don’t know how else to describe a segment that plays like The English Patient remade with Mike Myers. Luckily the characters are so fully formed, and so fully inhabited by the cast, that the whole mess staggers up out of the trenches and keeps going. Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary remains the show’s beating heart: Graceful, steely yet also remorseful, she’s learning how useless aristocratic pride will be in the 20th century.

Jane by Design

ABC Family, Jan. 3, 9 p.m. ET/PT |


Jane Quimby (Erica Dasher), a teen fashionista desperately in need of money, applies for a design-house internship but is mistakenly hired as an assistant. This means she has to keep up school attendance while running all over town satisfying the whims and demands of her dictatorial but killer-chic boss (Andie MacDowell). Dasher is an attractive young actress, and just oddball enough, but the chief emotion she conveys is escalating panic at Jane’s bifurcated life. A show like this needs to be able to indulge in the occasional swoon over style and fashion. Instead it’s just a plainer Ugly Betty.