The English countryside isn't known for its accommodating weather, but the atmosphere seems borderline sunny at "Downton Abbey" as the wildly popular series opens its doors Sunday for season five.
The Crawley family and its staff have certainly earned some blue skies after years of enduring financial problems, war casualties, the Spanish flu, murder charges, painfully tight corsets and Dowager Countess zingers.
As 1924 begins, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) has sufficiently gotten over her husband's death to start pitting rival suitors against each other with all the cunning of a "Dynasty" character. Kitchen maid Daisy (Sophie McShera) is pursuing a proper education. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), who has suffered more plights than Job, is bonding with her out-of-wedlock daughter, who is being raised by a nearby farmer.
Most prominently, love is in the air with three potential weddings in play. A mysterious Russian visitor suggests that the Dowager (Maggie Smith) may have had something of a racy past. A celebrated art historian makes his moves on Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). There's even an inkling of romance between butler Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), although their idea of flirting is having more than a two-minute conversation.
Oh, sure, problems still abound. Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) is still not off the hook for murder. A character who has been with the series since day one may not survive the season.
But this time around, creator Julian Fellowes has not cooked up the kind of jaw-dropping moments that have kept the series churning. Perhaps he's becoming more sentimental; perhaps he's running out of tragedies to put everyone through. In either case, "Abbey" is still a wonderful place to spend time in. Just don't expect this visit to be as dramatic.