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

Shrimp and grits, rendered healthful and Italian? We’re in.

This recipe features a sauce made with olive oil, tomatoes and herbs instead of cheese and cream.

UFO at Paine Field playground was left by an artist — not aliens

The flying saucer at community park in Everett is a cosmic attraction.

Chef James Abbott makes Buck’s peanut butter pie at Buck’s American Cafe in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Fur & Feathers: 4 lovable dogs need homes

Meet Lola, Sadie, Scooter and Chance

Sweet baking tips: How to rescue brown sugar that’s turned hard

Soften the rock solid stuff, then try this recipe for chocolate chunk cookies with sea salt.

Valentina Bogdanova, 74, loves working in the gardens that nearly surround the Bakerview Apartments, where she has lived for 20 years. The units are among 16 affordable and subsidized properties leased to seniors by the Everett Housing Authority. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
As real estate booms, those with fixed-incomes need help

When senior citizens get housing, they are able to ‘age in place.’

Melania Trump to donate inaugural ball gown to Smithsonian

Melania Trump is donating her inaugural ball gown… Continue reading

Harry Potter exhibit marks 20th anniversary of first book

Many of the things Harry Potter fans thought were imaginary were actually based in fact — or folklore.

Visiting Germany’s Lutherland, birthplace of Reformation

The sights include the church where the first Protestant service took place in 1521.

Most Read