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'Downer Abbey' should spice up plots, stick to key characters

For all the love we have for "Downton Abbey," it's hard not to clutch our pearls at some of what passes for plot points and drama — upstairs and downstairs — on the hit PBS series. A couple of episodes into the fourth season we're meeting a lot of new characters, but it's some of the old ones who are starting to get under our skin.

Here are a few storyline gripes to mull over the next time you settle in for a Sunday evening with a pot of tea and your Free Bates! cozy. (Potential spoilers ahead if you're waiting for television to arrive where you live).

Nick Briggs / Today
Picture of happiness: The butler Mr. Carson on "Downton Abbey."

Grumpy old men
OK, Bates, the leg hurts and prison was a bummer, but crack a smile already. The only thing worse than Lord Grantham's valet moping around downstairs is that we have to endure the same mostly snotty disposition from Mr. Carson. These two walk around like they own the place, regardless of what floor they're on, which is why it was so great when Lady Mary reminded Carson that he was out of line in this season's premiere. Anna and Mrs. Hughes should get an extra day off for managing to put up with these two as much as they do. And while we're at it, who keeps inviting Molesley back? Every time he shows up in a scene it's like an episode of "Downer Abbey." 

We’re in the money! And out! And in!
If money really came and went as easily as it does on "Downton," we’d all be ordering our giant staffs around our sprawling estates. First, the unknown heir to the estate just happens to be the world’s nicest guy, and also falls in love with oldest daughter Mary. Mansion saved! Then, Robert’s poor management loses him his fortune, and just in time a letter from Lavinia turns up confirming Matthew as her heir. Mansion saved! Then it appears Mary only owns 1/6 of Downton, but another magical letter turns up, from the late Matthew this time. Mansion saved! Then, Robert foolishly gambles a heap of cash away to poker cheat Sampson, but Edith’s boyfriend wins it back. We get the feeling that Robert could just let Isis the dog eat a heap of cash and five minutes later he’d miraculously strike gold on the castle grounds.

Nick Briggs / Today
Recipe for disaster: Mrs. Patmore and Daisy in the Downton kitchen.

Mrs. Patmore's kitchen nightmares
We can't be the only ones whose stomachs get upset watching every meal turn into a stress-filled production when it comes to the kitchen staff. When there's a large party upstairs it's as if it's everyone's first day on the job downstairs. Mrs. Patmore would seemingly shout about which side of the toast to butter if she thought it would make Daisy even more jittery. We're rooting for more electronic appliances to be introduced so as to drown out all the yelling and confusion.

Plotlines that make you go huh?
With a big juicy cast that we care deeply about, why are there so many plotlines that bore us to tears? Unless Carson's former vaudeville partner turns out to be Jack the Ripper, we don't see what his story arc had to do with anything. And whenever the tenant farmers are mentioned we start to zone out like we did in "The Phantom Menace" when we were supposed to care about trade-route taxation. Stick to the real stars, please.

Too lazy to get undressed
Obviously it would be great to have all your meals and household needs attended to by a staff that only appears when you jingle a bell. But sometimes we just want to fall asleep in our clothes rather than have to watch Bates unbutton another of Lord Grantham's sleeves, or see Anna pull off Lady Mary's gloves. No wonder Tom feels so out of place at Downton. He just wants to get back to Ireland so he can take off his pants by himself and leave them on the bathroom floor like a normal guy. 

Nick Briggs / Today
Dealt a horrible hand: Anna, left, just wanted to have a laugh and play cards.

When bad things happen to good people
We were horrified when Sybil died in childbirth and appalled when new dad Matthew's smiling joyride turned into a deadly car crash. How do we even talk about the brutal attack on cheerful Anna last week? Look "Downton," we need you to start protecting our innocent favorites and meting out some manor-house justice to the people we don’t like, such as departed baby-killing-soap deliverer O’Brien, and scheming underbutler Thomas Barrow. Anna's rapist had better be caught and punished, or we’re changing the channel for good.