The Sunday before the first day back to school after a two week break that has included Christmas, trips into San Francisco and lots of fudge and caramel, can look pretty bleak. But for our 16 year-old daughter Jennifer, there is one bright spot in what could otherwise be a pretty depressing day: the third season of Downton Abbey starts tonight. Thank goodness, reason to live!

Not surprisingly, PBS is capitalizing on the huge success of the series by running an all day Downton Abbey marathon peppered with numerous pledge breaks and Jennifer is glued to the TV watching it. I guess that explains why she has started calling me “mum.” I’m just glad that she doesn’t have $200 in her checking account or we would probably be the owners of the full series on DVD with 45 minutes of bonus footage.

Our family all agrees that Downton is really just a soap opera dressed up with British accents and tea sandwiches. But that’s what makes it so much fun to watch. We can enjoy the beautiful production values and make fun of it at the same time. Illicit love affairs, back-stabbing, eaves dropping, melodramatic illnesses, miraculous recoveries – it’s got it all, and it all happens with such angst-filled music playing in the background that it could be the soundtrack to “PMS: The Miniseries.”

I also have a fondness for the series because it reminds me of when I was exactly Jennifer’s age and I looked forward to Sunday nights so I could watch “Upstairs Downstairs.” Instead of Mrs. Patmore and Daisy, it was Mrs. Bridges and Ruby but the fun of watching much ado about nothing when disaster befalls the kitchen staff – “How will we ever recover from the shame of a failed pudding?” – hasn’t changed since I was watching 40 years ago.

So you’ll find us Sunday night at 9:00, huddled around the TV to find out what new highs and lows will befall the Crawleys and their staff. It will get us through the dark days of winter. By the time we’ve watched all seven episodes of Season 3, it will almost be spring!