Shirley MacLaine returns to ‘Downton Abbey’ in Season 4

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The news that Shirley MacLaine will return to “Downton Abbey” in Season 4 will make you jump for joy or jump ship. Either way, MacLaine will be back as Martha Levinson, Cora’s mom and Lord Robert’s MIL.

When we first heard that MacLaine would show up on Season 3 of the PBS/”Masterpiece” phenom, we looked forward to more twists and turns than Lady Mary’s bedtime braid. But, after watching the Oscar-winning actress’s performance, all we wanted to do was make a clever, snarky comment a la the Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith). We came up dry, but here’s what Ed Siegel, former Globe theater critic, had to say on his WBUR ARTeryblog: “Shirley MacLaine moves like she’s auditioning for a role in “The Walking Dead,” and her acting is equally wooden. Is this an English conspiracy to show how bad American actors are?”

Our own Matthew Gilbert isn’t in love with her either, telling chatters on Boston.com a few months ago: “I’ve watched the first three episodes. And it’s still not what it was the first season. But it’s nonetheless so easy to watch and enjoy. “Downton” is a soap, whatever, get over it. It’s a claaaaassy soap. Shirley MacLaine is disappointing. There’s something off about her performance, and I don’t think it’s the writing. She’s trying too hard to be quintessentially American.”

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At least we now know why both Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) were killed off in the same season. In a phone interview with New York Times blogger, Dave Itzkoff, Downton’s creator/writer, Julian Fellowes, explained that “The maximum any British agent will allow you to have over an actor is three years. And Jessica and Dan wanted to go. The show had been very, very successful, tremendously so, and they were being offered great opportunities.”

So, after you spend some time mourning the show’s losses (and MacLaine’s return?), look ahead to the new actors who will make their grand entrances on Season 4. Tom Cullen will play Lord Gillingham, a friend of the Crawleys; Harriet Walter has the role of Lady Shackleton, the Dowager’s buddy. Soprano Te Kanawa will play a house guest (yes, she will sing).

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