"The business of life is the acquisition of memories," Mr. Carson, the stodgy, old-school butler of "Downton Abbey" once said. "In the end, that's all there is."
When the end arrives this weekend for "Downton Abbey," it's safe to say the TV memories we're left with will be mostly fond ones. But just how do you bid farewell to a beloved British melodrama that warmed our winters for six seasons? How do you part with a show that taught us valuable life lessons -- like true love always finds a way and that only a clueless prat shows up underdressed for a dinner party?
It appears that "Downton" creator Julian Fellowes has learned some lessons of his own. The man who infuriated fans at the end of Season 3 by killing off Lady Mary's (Michelle Dockery) first husband, Matthew, in a car accident, has now delivered a feel-good series finale high on sentimental sweetness.
Without going into spoilery specifics, the March 6 two-hour send-off bestows on just about everyone some form of happily-ever-after ending. Does that include even poor, pitiful Edith (Laura Carmichael), who has spent most of the "Downton" run mired in misery? My lips are sealed, but just know that there are signs of hope.
That's not to say this overloaded finale is a masterpiece. Fellowes was apparently so determined to leave his vast roster of characters in comfy places that he too often resorts to narrative gymnastics to get them there. Alas, several storylines crammed into the episode come with resolutions that feel either pat and predictable or contrived and cloying.
Still, I somehow think that most "Downton" devotees who have taken the Crawleys and their loyal servants into their hearts won't complain. These are characters that we have related to, rooted for, swooned over and tweeted about for six years. Naturally, we want them to find their bliss -- even Barrow (Rob James-Collier), that once-insufferable underbutler.
As "Downton" departs, it's tempting to look back and ponder how and why it caught pop-cultural fire here in America. PBS, after all, has aired lavish British period pieces for decades, and, aside from the occasional exception, they've been largely ignored by the masses.
While "Downton" shared many of the traits of other costume dramas, it was delivered with more of a modern verve -- soapy (and simplistic) twists intact. And, of course, the cinematography was sumptuous, and the casting was spot on: Maggie Smith as a sneering, wisecracking countess? Comic gold.
The series also arrived amid the social media explosion, sparking spirited conversation, debates and dissections -- which, in turn, inspired come-in-costume viewing parties, countless Internet parodies and other overt displays of craziness.
OK, so it wasn't exactly Shakespeare -- or even "The Sopranos." But all in all, "Downton Abbey" made for a bloody good time.
CRIMES AND PUNISHMENT: "American Crime," a drama that doesn't get nearly as much attention as "Downton Abbey" but definitely deserves more viewers, closes out its powerful and provocative second season next week (10 p.m. Wednesday, ABC).
For the uninitiated, "American Crime," from Oscar-winning creator John Ridley, is an anthology drama that, in Season 2, has been pegged to a male-on-male sexual assault involving students at a prestigious private school in Indiana.
In the wake of the incident, various parties scrambled to protect their personal priorities, which gave rise to a big tangle of complications. Along the way, the series has taken on sensitive issues, including class, race, sexual orientation and the consequences of bullying.
With a powerhouse acting ensemble that includes Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Regina King, Connor Jessup and Lili Taylor, "American Crime" is like nothing else on broadcast television. If the 10-episode series somehow slipped past your radar, do yourself a favor and set aside some time for bingeing. It's a show that can be difficult to watch but impossible to forget.
Next week also brings the debut of another very bold cable drama called "Underground" (7 p.m. Wednesday, WGN America). Set in 1857 Georgia, it tells the story of the revolutionaries of the Underground Railroad who risked their lives to establish a network of secret routes and safe houses to help slaves escape to freedom.
In the opener, we meet a wide range of characters harboring agendas that aren't always clear-cut. Their compelling stories sucked me in from the start, and some energetic writing held me in thrall.
"Underground," which includes musician John Legend among its executive producers, is blessed with an impressive cast that includes, among others, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge, Christopher Meloni and Reed Diamond.
'DOWNTON ABBEY SERIES FINALE'
* * * ½
When: 9 p.m. March 6