PBS slides in another British drama

  • By Ellen Gray Philadelphia Daily News
  • Friday, March 29, 2013 8:35pm
  • Life

PBS may be trying to soothe Sunday viewers in the throes of “Downton” withdrawal with another costume piece, a 10 1/2-hour, eight-week presentation on “Masterpiece Classic” called “Mr. Selfridge.”

The title character is played by Jeremy Piven, who for eight seasons of “Entourage” was the brash and driven agent Ari Gold. This time he’s the brash and driven retail entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of Selfridge &Co.

Turns out that that very British department store was opened in 1909 by an upstart of an American who’d previously worked at Marshall Field’s, in Chicago.

The series is adapted by Andrew Davies (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Bleak House”) from Lindy Woodhead’s book, “Shopping, Seduction &Mr. Selfridge,” a title they should have kept.

So, producers must’ve cheered when a critic from one British paper described it as “‘Downton Abbey’ with tills.” But despite the juxtaposition of Harry’s high-flying friends and his considerably less-advantaged employees, “Mr. Selfridge” is a different and, so far, less addictive show.

And it’s not entirely fictional, though Davies told reporters in January that he’d combined some of Selfridge’s mistresses to create the showgirl Ellen Love (Zoe Tapper).

“He was an exceptionally active man with the ladies,” he said.

Piven, whose parents founded a theater workshop in Evanston, Ill., where he grew up, said that “being on ‘Masterpiece’ is like telling a Jewish mother you’re going to be a doctor.”

But not, in this case, a British doctor.

Seeing Piven playing someone not so different from his last TV role (though Ari was both more profane and more faithful), may, I’ll admit, have made it harder for me to immediately buy Harry as something more than a duplicitous blowhard.

But as the series goes on — I’ve seen four installments — and takes a deeper interest in the multitude of characters he’s gathered around him, “Mr. Selfridge” begins to come into focus.

Whether you’ll find it as engaging as “Downton Abbey” may depend less on any single performance than on how invested you can become in the rise of the modern perfume counter and off-the-rack dresses.

Because in the end, the real star of “Mr. Selfridge” seems to be commerce itself.

Watch it

“Mr. Selfridge” debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday on KCTS.

More in Life

Secret garden: Privacy trees that won’t outgrow a small space

These plants offer some height to block out unwanted sights without taking over your yard.

‘Young Sheldon’ was born out of ‘The Big Bang Theory’

The hit TV show about Sheldon Cooper now has a spinoff series about him when he was a kid genius.

Reminder: Historic Everett’s self-guided home tour is today

The featured home depicted in the tour poster painting by Everett artist Elizabeth Person.

Home and Garden calendar for Snohomish County and beyond

Seattle Home Show 2: The fall version of the oldest and largest… Continue reading

Great Plant Pick: Panicum virgatum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

This red-foliaged switch grass makes a good specimen but also creates a bold statement in a drift.

Plant these late bloomers to brighten up your shade garden

In this follow-up to a column on sunny borders, Steve Smith lists flowers to liven up a dark yard.

Do you know the joke about a set of special-order dishes?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A black-and-white design for colorful plates was sent to China…

Megyn Kelly hopes for a Trump-free zone with new daily show

She says her morning talk show, which debuts Monday on NBC, will not focus on politics.

Beer of the Week: 5 Rights Brewing’s Fresh hop imperial IPA

The Marysville brewery named its beer Wobbly the Laborer after the Industrial Workers of the World.

Most Read