I know these are fighting words, but as “Downton Abbey” returns for a third season on “Masterpiece Classic” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings), I almost wish it hadn’t.
Everything folks adore about this series has returned. The clothes, interior design, landscaping and familiar faces are all here. And Shirley MacLaine even joins the cast, albeit briefly, as Cora’s (Elizabeth McGovern) brash, crass and rich American mother. She clashes, naturally, with the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), whose clever, understated verbal hand grenades arrive a little too frequently.
Season three is not without action. There are matters of life and death; freedom and incarceration; marriages made and nearly undone; fortunes won and lost and regained; reputations ruined and repaired.
Folks, particularly in the U.K., have criticized “Downton” as dowdy escapism and gilded pap. Perhaps in reaction, series creator Julian Fellowes begins season three with a deliberate political point. When some suggest that the days of large estates and their large staffs are behind them, Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) and his mother, the Dowager Countess, argue that they maintain their castle not just for their own luxurious ends, but also out of duty to those they employ as well as the surrounding county. It’s what used to be called noblesse oblige.
“An aristocrat with no servants is as useful as a glass hammer,” says the Dowager Countess.
This seems a blatant criticism of our contemporary corporate class, committed to the vicious efficiency of outsourcing and downsizing. Fellowes, it could be argued, is saying that you can’t have noblesse without oblige. We’re left with a lot of useless glass hammers.
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Barcelona’s soccer dynasty and Silicon Valley designer David Kelley.
• A trip to the fertility clinic leaves a couple devastated on “Dateline NBC” (6 p.m.).
• An invitation to an execution on “Once Upon a Time” (7 p.m., ABC).
• Canning’s cunning complicates a case on “The Good Wife” (8 p.m., CBS).
• Neve Campbell stars in the 2013 drama “An Amish Murder” (8 p.m., Lifetime).
• Women try matchmaking for clueless guys on the new series “Making Mr. Right” (8 p.m., VH1).
• David Letterman appears on “Oprah’s Next Chapter” (8 p.m., OWN).