This Sunday, March 30, PBS rouses itself from its post-"Downton Abbey" doldrums to bring new seasons of two more made-in-Britain series. While "Mr. Selfridge," which begins Season 2, boasts the sumptuous period design and costumes beloved by "Downton" devotees, "Call the Midwife" is as unglamorous as a flour-specked apron.
Rather than giving us the vicarious thrill of swanning around with money-bag swells, "Call the Midwife" makes a virtue of its intimate, small-scale domestic scope. As Season 3 begins, it's 1959, and the midwives and nuns devoted to helping women in the slums of London's East End cope with pregnancy, delivery and motherhood, are as busy and necessary as ever.
In the first episode, nurse Jenny (Jessica Raine) is struggling to figure out what's wrong with a woman's newborn baby. Elsewhere, the midwives and nuns are in a new home, but Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) is getting even more eccentric, and Chummy (Miranda Hart) is grappling with life as a wife and new mother, and missing working as a midwife.
It all proceeds in gentle fashion, but what makes "Call the Midwife" special is how the stories grip us on a human level. And it's a rare show that, like "Call the Midwife," honors the courage and heroism of women who help to deliver children, and the mothers who do their best to care for them in difficult circumstances.
There's beauty in that, even if none of the women in "Call the Midwife" are wearing jewels, furs or corseted gowns.