Perhaps in response to some complaints that last season was too dour and bleak, Downton Abbey seems headed in either a more free-wheeling direction for season four or a tedious after-school special. Though many of us are still reeling from the tragic events of the season three finale, it's time to press on into the future of Downton Abbey. Casting is underway for a few new characters, two of whom seem destined to freak out all the stuffed shirts of the manor house. One new character and plot in particular could almost be called hip, for this show at least.
The most revolutionary casting news is that the show is looking for its first non-white actor for a regular role. Yes, Downton Abbey been an extremely monochromatic show so far, but that's about to change. The show is looking for someone to play one Jack Ross, described as "male, 25-30. A musician (singer) at an exclusive club in the 20s. He’s black and very handsome. A real man (not a boy) with charm and charisma." A musician?? How unseemly! And since it's described as a "club," can we guess that it's filthy jazz music? What will grandmama say!
The show wants the actor to be "very attractive" and should be able to "sing brilliantly," so basically if you are perfect, go audition for the role. Based on events last season, should we guess that this Jack Ross will get caught up with the new Cousin Oliver-esque character Rose? That seems to be the general consensus across the web. Whomever he's involved with, Jack's presence will serve as the catalyst for an arc "about race relations."
Which is all well and good, so long as it doesn't become a ham-handed PSA. I appreciate that Downton has tried to tackle a variety of social issues of the day, and of course race was one of the biggest of those issues, though perhaps one of the most rarely discussed. So it's a worthy topic, to be sure. I just hope that they play it realistically to the time and don't tread into anachronistic moralizing. As we saw this past season with Thomas's outing, show writer Julian Fellowes seems uneager to make any of his beloved characters total bigots, even though very likely many of them would have been at the time.
Meaning, Jack Ross should not serve solely as the token black character who Teaches Them All A Lesson. He should be a character who, while disruptive to Downton's world, also seems organic to it in some way. Fellowes has proven in the past that he has a deft hand for nuance and subtlety, but that hand can also get a bit heavy at times. A lot of these snobby jerks should learn a lesson, but whatever change is effected in their hearts about race, or any other topic, should be realistic to the day before it's heartwarming television. I'd like to say that we can rely on Fellowes to do right in this matter, but after two unsteady and often melodramatic seasons of the show, it's unfortunately a toss-up. But, hey, regardless of what happens, at least we'll get a strikingly handsome guy who can sing beautifully on the show next season. That, if nothing else, is something to look forward to.
The other character who could prove a welcome change of pace is a "a party-loving cad called Sir John Bullock." A party-loving cad! That sounds like a delight. First a musician and now a party-boy gent of the aristocracy. Sure he'll just be another obnoxious rich white jerk, but a little levity never hurt anyone on this show. And maybe he'll serve as a love interest for Edith maybe? If things with the newspaper editor don't work out? (Just have Bates go kill the crazy wife. That's what Bates does!) She could use a little fun, the poor old maid. The casting announcement doesn't say anything about this John Bullock being handsome, so there's no indication yet that he's out of poor Edith's league. (Mean but true, friends. Mean but true.) Whatever happens, let's hope both he and Jack Ross at least bring some modern scandal and ebullience to that death-plagued and dreary old estate. It would be nice to have a season of the show that wasn't such an epic downer most of the time, wouldn't it?
Speaking of downers, the show is also looking to cast a new love interest for the suddenly Matthew-less Mary. His name is Lord Anthony Gillingham and he's "good looking, very charismatic" with a "perfect cut glass accent." He also helps the family with their money troubles, so I guess we're getting another thrilling plot line about the family finances. Oh well, that was probably to be expected.
No word yet on what's going on down in the servant world, but I'm sure we can expect a casting call any day now for an achingly handsome new footman with a twinkle in his eye and a sweet spot for Thomas. Right? It's about time. Or, hell, at least they could find someone for Daisy, whom she likes and who likes her back, so she can stop frippering around with that pinched little face of hers. Something's gotta give downstairs, and it'd be nice if it was with one of those two sadsacks.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.