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TV Critics Tour: 'Downton Abbey,' Lady Mary, look ahead to the 5th

In this image released by PBS, Michelle Dockery

(Credit: AP)

Bevely Hills -- "Downton Abbey," which returns for the fifth season Jan. 4, promises big changes or perhaps the better phrase in lieu of  "big" here would be "emotionally resonant and complex." So let's go with that insstead: "Dowton" promises emotional resonant and complex changes in the 5th as one of TV's great hits continues to figure out how to keep that other word "hit" firmly affixed to any discussion of "Abbey."  Of course it's always hard to tell six months in advance, just how resonant any "Abbey"  adjustments will be, and the series has rarely been in the habit of revealing too much going forward. (What's the fun in that anyway?)

 But aside from a prominent new cast member -Richard E. Ggrant ("Gosford Park") will join as one Simon Bricker, a guest of the Granthams,  stars and showrunners here Tuesday did promise an evolution that will especially impact one of "Downton's" signature characters, Lardy Mary.

 Gareth Neame, exective producer of "Downton," did indicate that at least one major story will develop next year - Lady Mary Crawley's eventual move out of the shadows, into a new emotional life. Which is to say: She's finally thinking of playing the field again. She said as much at the end of season four; the question for her and "Downton" fans is an obvious one, however: "We’ve, all of us, have played these characters now for several years. We’ve all lived in this “Downton” world. And the more we’re immersed in the world, the more we feel that we get to understand these characters, the more that the stakes of the stories are higher. I think what Michelle [Dockery] was just saying about the relationships and what she’s going to do and the idea that Mary has now decided by the end of Season 4 she said, “I know I will marry again. I’m not now” “I’m turning to life, and I’m going to be married.” But I think that whole challenge of how do you make a new relationship when your partner has died, how do you make a second marriage as an older, more mature person is way more complicated than the first relationship decision you make. So I think for all of these characters, everything is just ratcheted up. Everything is much more complicated. He’s still the guy stuck in no man’s land between these two worlds, but as you saw with the scene with Hugh Bonneville, the stakes are just higher and higher every time." Dockery had this to say about Lady Crawley: "She’s very she’s very complex. I think that she she’s impulsive. So she makes these decisions, and then, you know, once she goes through with it, she looks back and actually realizes it wasn’t quite the right decision. And I think this series, she is quite impulsive, and she’s embracing her new life really. I think she’s through the grief now. And I kind of see Series 5 for Mary as the new Mary, I guess, in a way. And so with that, she’s got a bit of her bite back that we had in Series 1, which I’ve enjoyed playing, you know. It was lovely to do Series 4 with playing all of that emotion and everything, but this series is a lot more fun. So I’m enjoying it."

TV Critics Tour: Could this be the next 'Downton Abbey?'

Beverly Hills -- There will never be another "Downton Abbey" -- except, there has to be. Viewers demand it, public TV demands it, financial backers demand it... The problem with success, and "Downton" is the single most successful scripted series in PBS history, is that more success must follow. It is the way of the commercial TV world, and now that PBS has gotten a tase of an almighty hit, it stands...

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TV Critics Tour: The next 'Fargo' will forgo big stars (maybe)

"Fargo" will be returning for a second season

Beverly Hills -- "Fargo" will return for a second season — no surprise — and will be written (along with assists by a number of top writers) by Noah Hawley — also no surprise — and will eventually be a huge magnet of commentary, bloviation and gaseous analysis by critics (like me.)

Again, no surprise. But here is the surprise: FX chief John Landgraf said Monday that fans should not expect...

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TV Critics Tour: Can 'Sons of Anarchy' be redeemed?

From left, ?Sons of Anarchy? creator Kurt Sutter,

(Credit: AP)

BEVERLY HILLS — As longtime fans know, "Sons of Anarchy" is one of TV's smarter series. It's an endlessly inventive plot pretzel that showcases writing, acting and direction at a very high level and has done so more or less consistently for six seasons.

But "SOA" also has a deeply twisted soul. It doesn't celebrate violence, but it doesn't condemn violence either. Last season ended with the...

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TV Critics Tour: A death in 'The Simpsons' family

Will Krusty the Clown die?

(Credit: Fox Broadcasting)

Beverly Hills -- Fans of "The Simpsons" learned some time ago that the show would "kill off" a key character this season -- "kill off" being but a transitory condition in the realm of animated series often but not always measured in episodes, or until the fan outcry is so annoying that the creators have no choice but to relent and bring the deceased back to life. 

 But that's beside...

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James Garner: An appreciation

James Garner, in character, on April 7, 1982.

(Credit: AP / Anonymous)

Combative, intelligent, sensitive, hard-driving, tough and above all talented, James Garner -- who died Saturday at the age of 86 -- did share one trait in common with so very many gifted people: He was complicated. He took a cauldron of life experiences and turned them into choices that defined to some extent what we see on television today, for the rootstock of Walter White is indeed, to some not so remote extent, Jim Rockford. (Both shared one thing certainly in direct proportion -- the double wide trailer...)

Garner came from Norman, Oklahoma and it is fair and accurate to say that Norman, Oklahoma never left him. He arrived -- one of three brothers, to a mother who would die by the time he was four -- in a world that was about to be desperately impoverished.

The land would be scoured to the bone by prevailing winds that would turn the middle of the country into a stretch of dust and sand. His father was an alcoholic and his step-mother a monster -- or so he would recall in his late-in-life memoir (that in parts doubled as payback.)


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Garner learned to use his fists and discovered, and maybe feared, a temper that he couldn't always control.

Garner was also one quarter Cherokee -- the tribe brutally decimated, then "forcibly removed" by Andrew Jackson to a place no one wanted: Oklahoma. He was deeply proud of his Indian heritage (and named his production company, Cherokee.) Hence, the idea of Garner as a Western TV "hero" in a '50s era serial certainly had intriguing if not in the moment exactly promising potential -- especially considering the casual and implicit racism that haunted the TV western over its long run.

He didn't want to play Maverick. He was a contract player for Warner Bros. and he was told to do it -- no discussion, no negotiation. It was a studio play that turned him against the System and ultimately forged one of Hollywood's most litigious stars. Garner wasn't exactly the Curt Flood of movies and TV, but he was certainly part of the wave -- initiated first by Cary Grant -- that ultimately broke the studio's iron hold over stars and talent. "Maverick," in which Garner appeared in only 52 episodes, was actually an important part of that history.

Garner, of course, didn’t play Maverick like the usual laconic white hat, who rode into town, ordered a whiskey and then promptly -- or eventually -- put a bullet in the guy wearing the black hat. He was witty, bemused, ironic, suave, intelligent, and full of a sense -- not explicitly stated -- that the world was mad and he was just another member of the asylum. You could almost apply the exact same description to Jim Rockford, who arrived over a decade later.

Garner's best roles, or certainly his most memorable roles, reflected Garner to greater or lesser extent. That was part of his appeal, part of his enduring success. Write what you know, writers are told. Garner acted what he knew.

As mentioned, Garner was conflicted; that's no surprise and you could see it on screen. He wanted the money and success that came along with the major roles -- but he didn't want the indentured servitude, as he thought of it before he sued the studios to release him from both "Maverick" and "The Rockford Files."

It's hard to know who was in the right or wrong over those long ago and now forgotten lawsuits, but it's easy now to take Garner's side. After all, who's going to take the side of a studio run by someone like Jack Warner? In fact, Garner had badly damaged his knee in basic training years earlier, and had other assorted injuries during a brutal tour of duty in Korea, as an infantryman. (He was nearly killed, twice, by the way, and had a pair of Purple Hearts as testament. )

Garner was hospitalized at one point for the bad knee -- he did many of his own stunts on "Rockford" -- and the studio, Universal, interpreted that as work stoppage. It sued, Garner counter-sued. "Rockford" was dead, except as a series of movies that kept the franchise going. "I'll accept a lot before I snap," he once said. "But I do snap."

Rockford and Maverick, as characters, broke a long tradition of the hero-as-violent: Who used the gun as a means of settling any argument or removing any impediment. Garner said he was proud that he rarely used his gun as Rockford, and never shot anyone. Rockford hated guns, and in fact he would often be on the receiving end of violence. But like Garner, if pushed, Jim shoved back.

Rockford endured because he had a certain magic that only a gifted actor can instill. But he also endured because the man who played him knew him so intimately. Viewers thought they were seeing someone entirely real, or thought they were.

It's also worth noting in this all-to-brief appreciation that some of Garner's big screen roles were jewels -- at least three were classics, "The Americanization of Emily," "The Great Escape," and "Murphy's Romance," for which he received a late-in-career best actor nod.

Nevertheless, it was TV that would provide the mirror of the man. That mirror reflected one of TV's finest actors who helped to expand the boundaries of what was possible on the medium. Garner will be missed, and in fact already is.

James Garner dead at 86; a look back at his iconic roles

Actor James Garner, left, smiles as he holds

(Credit: AP / Lennox McLendon)

James Garner, one of TV's great and iconic actors, has died age 86 — and before we get to the appreciation, please appreciate these series of clips that illustrate Garner's natural ability to convey sex appeal, intelligence, authority and, above all, charisma in dozens of TV roles, and many, many movie ones as well.

As his old pal (and co-star) Julie Andrews has written of Garner, "he owns...

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TV Critics Tour: New Showtime series, 'The Affair,' to be shot on LI

British actress Ruth Wilson, who will star in

Beverly Hills -- "The Affair," a Showtime newcomer arriving in October and starring Ruth Wilson and Dominic West, will be shot over the full 10-episode season in Montauk, showrunner Sarah Treem said yesterday.

And yes - that is unusual because the Hamptons and points east are considered (in fact are) enormously expensive places to shoot a series, while other LI-based series, like "Royal Pains"...

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TV Critics tour: 'Homeland' arrives in October

This photo released by Showtime shows Claire Danes

(Credit: AP)

Beverly Hills -- "Homeland" will be back Oct. 5 -- a Sunday, so don't bother checking the calender. The return date was announced here Friday, and just to add a little salt with that pepper, Showtime also unveiled the first new season tease (see below).

This season -- by the way -- is currently in production in South Africa... South Africa? Yes, South Africa, and not because the storyline...

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TV Critics Tour: Wentworth Miller joins 'The Flash'

Wentworth Miller as Michael Scofield on Fox's "Prison

(Credit: Fox)

Beverly Hills -- CW's "The Flash" - easily one of the more enjoyable new pilots (and hopefully series) of the 2014 fall season - will add Wentworth Miller to the cast, as Leonard Snart, or perhaps better known to fans as "Captain Cold." Announced Friday by the showrunners, who already had strewn a handful of other Easter eggs throughout this newcomer, for fans of both the long-running DC Comics...

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