Eager costume drama fans waiting for the return of “Downton Abbey” can feast on the second helping of the revival of the “Masterpiece” classic “Upstairs Downstairs” (8 p.m. Sunday, PBS). It’s the kind of programming I watch for the plot, while my wife obsesses about the frocks, furniture and the wallpaper. There’s something for everybody.
The private lives and public follies of the aristocratic class and its stoic servants unfold against the backdrop of gathering war clouds. It’s 1938, and Adolf Hitler is determined to invade Czechoslovakia. Londoners are so certain of another world war that authorities issue gas masks as anti-aircraft blimps float over a nervous city.
This season’s “Upstairs,” while beautifully produced and flawlessly performed, seems too caught up in the Great Sweep of History. Sir Hallam Holland (Ed Stoppard) is shown trying to stop Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s government from appeasing Hitler, and later the whole family embarks on a mission to rescue Jewish refugees from the Nazis.
Meanwhile, as we learned last season, decadent fascist Lady Persephone Towyn (Claire Foy) is still caught up with Hitler’s inner circle. It’s not that all this isn’t interesting, but you long for a non-ideological squabble between maids. And yet, even the “Downstairs” crew is caught up in events, when exacting butler Mr. Pritchard’s (Adrian Scarborough) past as a conscientious objector earns him the scorn of other staff members wounded and widowed in the all-too-recent war.
The re-creation of historical events and the arrival of historical personages occasionally threaten to resemble “The Kennedys,” that turgid miniseries that ran on Reelz last year. Speaking of the Kennedys, Ambassador Joseph P. and his sickly son, John F., even show up at 165 Eaton Place. But you’ll have to wait until next week to see them.
Sunday’s other highlights
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Syria, profiles of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Detroit folk singer Rodriguez.
• Ancient versions of Homer and Marge witness the creation of the Mayan calendar on the “Treehouse of Horror XXIII” edition of “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox).
• The New Orleans Saints host the San Diego Chargers on “Sunday Night Football” (7:20 p.m., NBC).