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

Leanne Smiciklas, the friendly lady who served customers of her husband’s Old School Barbeque from a schoolbus parked in front of the Reptile Zoo east of Monroe, has died at 64. (Dan Bates / Herald file)
Without her, beloved BBQ hotspot in Monroe can’t go on

Leanne Smiciklas, who ran the now-closed Old School BBQ along Highway 2 with her husband, died.

Taylor Johnston waters a philodendron at her home on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Three guidebooks to help the novice houseplant gardener

Indoor plants are popular again — and we’re not talking about your grandma’s African violets.

Plant of Merit: Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata,’ Japanese aralia

What: Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata,’ or variegated Japanese aralia, is an evergreen shrub… Continue reading

Don’t call Justice Brewing owner a gypsy — he’s just ‘homeless’

After an unexpected hardship, owner Nate McLaughlin won’t be moving his brewery to downtown Everett.

A mild December makes for easy winter cleanup in the garden

If you haven’t finished your November gardening tasks, here’s a list of chores to do this month.

Beer of the Week: Justice Brewing’s Outlook F——d, Northeast IPA

The brewery’s new beer with a vulgar name is a tropical IPA that riffs off its Outlook Hazy recipe.

Yummy Banh Mi offers cheap sandwiches with rich flavor

Classic Vietnamese meets fast food at new restaurant in downtown Everett.

Could a law to bring down the mob be used in Weinstein case?

The federal anti-racketeering law was drafted to bring down organized crime but it isn’t limited to it.

This author is throwing a virtual party for book lovers

Jennifer Bardsley is hosting a Facebook get-together for young-adult book authors and readers.

Most Read