I understand series 3 has not aired yet in the US-- correct me if you know otherwise, but series 1 and 2 are both available. Mostly. I watched 1 on Netflix, and finished it up today. I still find it fascinating how the Brits do TV. Instead of many short, commercial-filled episodes, they make fewer, longer episodes. It works.
If you don't know, the show is a period drama (which I wouldn't have thought I would like), set in England. Series I begins in 1912, just as news of the Titanic tragedy has reached Downton, and ending with the beginning of WWI. It is a very well woven story of the aristocratic family (the Lord, his American wife and their 3 daughters) and their staff-- butler, maids, cooks, etc. It's a wonderful picture of how life was at that time for both groups of people. It is very well cast and written. Watch for Maggie Smith to steal every scene she is in-- she is superb, of course.
The show kind of reminds me of a soap opera, but more real, more genuine, and impeccably written. There are characters you love and characters you love to hate. There is love and hate and people trying to destroy each other and help each other. There is the new "liberal" radicalism: rallying for women's rights. There is propriety and the installation of Downton's first telephone. The British are very good at this sort of thing, and they always manage to weave in a little comedy, even in the midst of drama. Humor is what makes drama entertaining.
I was surprised how quickly I got drawn in and had that addicted, don't-want-to-stop-watching feeling.
I desperately wanted to continue on to season 2 (I'm American, I can't keep calling it series, try as I might), but Netflix isn't currently running it, and I don't want to pay iTunes for them. I can be patient. I've got other shows to catch up on in the meantime...
Sensitivity warning: In the first episode there is a gay kiss, firmly establishing one ongoing character's "orientation", I suppose. A couple of episodes later there is a scene with a man and woman in a bedroom, where sex is imminent, but not shown. You've been warned.