Monday, January 20, 2014

Downton Abbey: Season 4: 3-Disc Set Blu-ray Disc Review

Downton Abbey is the highest rated drama in PBS television history, reaching a record 24.1 million viewers during the broadcast of the third season in 2013. It also had the highest Twitter buzz for any program broadcast on public television. The show is a co-production between Carnival, which is a division of NBCUniversal International Television Productions and MASTERPIECE, a staple of quality drama on PBS going back decades. The series has garnered ten Emmys(r) two Golden Globes(r) and a coveted Screen Actors Guild Award(r) for the ensemble cast.

The fourth season has already begun to air on PBS, but those on the American side of the Atlantic, who want to know what happens this season before broadcast viewers, will be able to pick up the complete fourth season of the UK Edition of Downton Abbey on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc as well as Digital Download, but all versions are sold separately. Then those who purchase the season on January, 28, 2014 can watch the finale more than three weeks before it premieres on MASTERPIECE on PBS.

The fourth season opens six months after the events of the third season finale and basically deals with the theme of new beginnings and moving on as new cast members are introduced and returning and new guest stars make appearances including Academy Award(r) winning Actress Shirley MacLaine and as her playboy son, Paul Giamatti. and James Fox. New cast members include Harriet Walter, Gary Carr, Joanna David, and Tom Cullen. The season begins in 1922 and explores some of the cultural changes that impact our characters in the world of Downton Abbey and this is reflected in subtle costume changes with skirts being raised just a little bit higher and men of financial means dressing in a new stylish formal wear. The idea ties into the series' themes as while the people of Downton Abbey still cling onto a 19th century Victorian sensibility, the 20th century is creeping in and opening new doors as opportunities that include African British Actor Gary Carr as a Jazz Singer whose success has allowed him to rub elbows with British Society. In addition there is a beautiful opera performance by a renowned opera singer, who was honored to be asked to appear on Downton Abbey just as much as the cast and crew were honored to have her. Both are mutual fans. 

The drama with the support staff as it parallels the drama of the upper class reminded me a bit of the Merchant Ivory film, The Remains Of The Day. It is clear after watching the fourth season of Downton Abbey that cast members may come and go like any soap opera, but for now anyway, Downton Abbey seems eternal.

PBS Distribution presents the fourth season of Downton Abbey on Blu-ray Disc with beautiful 1080p/24fps high definition video and English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo Sound and English Subtitles for Deaf and Hearing Impaired encoded as an option for all nine episodes. The back of the packing states 1080i as the Blu-ray Disc broadcast resolution, but my Blu-ray player and TV listed the content as 1080p/24p.

The episodes can be viewed in sequence via a "Play All" option or individually according to the viewer's preference.  Additional information on Downton Abbey and PBS can be found at as a text menu selection informs the viewer and each episode has chapter listings too. The interactive menus are elegant and easy to navigate.

One caveat I have about this set is the overdoing of sponsor commercials at the beginning of each disc when a user presses play for the first episode of each disc and after the credits of the final episode on each disc as well. I understand and respect that contributors like Ralph Lauren and Viking Cruises help make programs like Downton Abbey possible on PBS, but as far as I am concerned if I buy a film or TV show on Blu-ray Disc or another home video format, I should not be subjected to commercials twice for each of the three discs in the set. Not even Buena Vista piles on the self promotion like this and this is not PBS commercials for PBS home video releases, these are literally adverts that aside from one on the first disc, should not be exploiting the consumer by appearing another five times on the set. It is ridiculous and a turn off I hope PBS will address with future releases because that kind of repeat advertising does not make me want to buy Ralph Lauren clothes or take a Viking cruise. 

Over thirty minutes of bonus materials are found on the third disc and they are presented in full HD as well and include a look at how the cast gets ready for day of production from arriving early in the morning and eating breakfast and then going into makeup and more (13:27). Then there is a making of the fourth season featurette (12:22), which is supported by interviews with the new cast members (9:22). A Visit Britain advert (:32) wraps up the bonus materials within this Blu-ray Disc Set.

Downton Abbey: Season Four: Original UK Edition: 3-Disc Set on Blu-ray Disc will debut on January 28, 2014 at retailers on and offline courtesy of PBS Distribution.

(C) Copyright 2014 By Mark Rivera
All Rights Reserved.