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'Downton Abbey' debuts new faces, new drama

Gary Carr as Jack Ross in a scene

Gary Carr as Jack Ross in a scene from season four of the Masterpiece TV series, "Downton Abbey." As it returns for its much-awaited fourth season, it remains a series about elegance, tradition and gentility, and the pressures of preserving them. The show premieres at 9 p.m. EST Jan. 5, 2014 on PBS. Credit: AP

They're baaaaaack -- all the Granthams and Crawleys, that feisty dowager countess, cuddly old Carson, devilish Thomas . . . and more, as a host of new characters arrive both upstairs and downstairs at "Downton Abbey." The season four premiere airs Sunday night at 9 on WNET/13.

Among the newbies: suitors for Lady Mary -- and "they're all really handsome," says actress Michelle Dockery, in a PBS online video.

The Internet is a precarious place for fans, as the season just concluded Christmas Day in Britain, and there are scads of spoilers lurking online. So here's a spoiler-free glimpse at the new folks you'll love -- and love to hate.

THE NEW AMERICAN Paul Giamatti plays Harold, Cora's (Elizabeth McGovern) playboy brother sweeping in from America. Alas, the Emmy winner won't appear until the season finale (along with Harold and Cora's outlandish mama, played by Shirley MacLaine).

MARY'S NEW SUITOR, option 1. That's Lord Gillingham (played by Welshman Tom Cullen), an old family friend who gives Mary financial advice. Cullen won most promising newcomer at the 2011 British Independent Film Awards, but will he win American hearts? Or Mary's?

MARY'S NEW SUITOR, option 2. Outspoken aristocrat Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden), who meddles in Downton affairs, infuriating Mary. Ovenden's a popular singer on London's West End. Perhaps he'll start crooning. "Will Lady Mary get even snarkier with me this week?" he tweeted, midseason, in Britain. Hmmm . . . is that a trick question?

THE NEW VALET. Green (Nigel Harman), who's up to no good. Or . . . is he? Carson (Jim Carter) is steamed when the newcomer distracts the staff with the rousing card game "Racing Demon."

THE JAZZ SINGER. Jack Ross (Gary Carr) debuts in episode three when Mary heads to London. He makes "Downton" history as the series' first-ever black character. "Downton" caught flak for its whites-only cast, and in 2012, series creator Julian Fellowes conceded in an interview that it'd be "rather nice to open it up ethnically," as long as it was "historically believable."

THE SOPRANO. Real (New Zealander) soprano Kiri Te Kanawa plays real (Australian) soprano Nellie Melba, a popular figure in the early 20th century. "It was a rather marvelous day on the set," recalls Fellowes, in a PBS promo. "There we all were, sitting, listening to Kiri Te Kanawa . . . for nothing. Quite a big treat."

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