No spoilers, but there are a few hints ahead for the new season of the PBS hit "Downton Abbey," which returns Sunday at 9 p.m. on RMPBS.

Change propels "Downton Abbey" into a new season, with technology and romance playing key roles in keeping our favorite characters, both upstairs and downstairs, off balance.

Change continues to make "Downton" relevant to our lives, letting us in on the variously graceful and resentful ways people deal with the inevitable.

Just as the introduction of an electric lightbulb was greeted with derision in the drawing room, the new season brings an electric mixer into Mrs. Patmore's kitchen. Imagine her reaction to this abomination, akin to current fears of robots taking over jobs.

Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in "Downton Abbey," a series about elegance, tradition and gentility and the pressures of preserving them in the
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary in "Downton Abbey," a series about elegance, tradition and gentility and the pressures of preserving them in the face of change. (Photos provided by PBS)

Beyond gadgetry, modern ideas are about to shock the hardliners. The concepts of interracial mixing (a jazz band at Downton!?), the possible termination of an unwanted pregnancy and the increasingly slippery hierarchy within the house take turns at center stage.

First, of course, the ensemble must deal with the aftermath of a messy — even shocking — third-season finale, tortured by the reality of a cast member wanting out of his contract. Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley, had to be written out of the series. As the new season begins, it's six months later, and the household is in mourning. The widowed Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) is still wearing black, Matthew's mother Isobel is still in shock and the family is concerned that Mary in particular may never rise out of grief.


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Eventually, the possibility of new romance will turn up, even for unlikely candidates. In fact, there are hints of fresh relationships for everyone from Lady Mary to down-on-his-luck servant Molesley.

Additions to the cast include musical high notes: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa appears as a guest who sings in the house (another dilemma for old-timers, should a performer, even an opera singer, be seated at the table with the family upstairs?); and Gary Carr has a continuing role as jazz singer Jack Ross.

Clearly, writer-creator Julian Fellowes knows how to keep fans hooked, cleverly playing out credible character traits across time, and knowing the breathless pace of change resonates with our current passage into another modern age.

Joanne Ostrow: 303-954-1830, jostrow@denverpost.com or twitter.com/ostrowdp