×

TV Review: ‘Mr. Selfridge’

What would Ari GoldJeremy Piven’s fast-talking huckster of an agent in “Entourage” — have done for a living in 1908? PBS seemingly asks and answers the question by casting Piven as “Mr. Selfridge,” playing the department store owner and P.T. Barnum-like showman who reinvented shopping for early 20th-century Londoners. Written by Andrew Davies of “Bleak House” renown, this “Masterpiece” presentation also juggles a sprawling cast of working-class stiffs who toil for the great man, in a series that brings welcome energy to the “Masterpiece” franchise.

Of course, “Downton Abbey” has elevated expectations for PBS, and “Mr. Selfridge” doesn’t rise to that level of addiction. But those who enter its bustling environs will likely want to hang around long enough (and the drama will play out over eight weeks) to see what happens next.

The Chicago native brings Yankee ingenuity and unabashed salesmanship to the art of retail, seeking to “show the world how to make shopping thrilling.” Much of that hinges on breaking down social mores, and marketing the store to wealthy and poor alike, enlisting a popular stage performer, Ellen Love (the alluring Zoe Tapper), as “the face of Selfridge” — and not incidentally, the proprietor’s latest mistress.

Selfridge’s womanizing ways have mostly been ignored by his wife Rose (Frances O’Connor), but she finds both greater independence and some of her own diversions in their new surroundings. Meanwhile, the downstairs part of the operation includes a lovely shopgirl (Aisling Loftus) with potential suitors but also trouble at home.

As crafted by Davies (working with multiple directors, including Jon Jones on the two-hour premiere), the series careens along briskly enough, providing insight into how far retail marketing has evolved as it goes. (Showcasing women’s cosmetics, for example, is considered as shocking as stocking all dress sizes to accommodate their varying shapes.)

Piven doesn’t really have to stretch much from Ari in a role that also capitalizes on his buoyant persona, but the idea Selfridge was a serial philanderer adds an interesting layer to the character who, despite being the boss, actually blends into the large cast, in a series that’s full of romantic triangles, hunger and striving, and where good-looking waiters are urged to cater to the needs of wealthy socialites. Indeed, the real discovery for an American audience might be Tapper, who manages to make her emotionally needy mistress — having identified Selfridge as a ticket out of the chorus — strangely sympathetic and tragic.

The buzz surrounding “Downton” demonstrated PBS and “Masterpiece” have the potential to expand beyond their usual sleepy profile, and having a U.S. star should help promote this latest entrant (situated, not incidentally, in roughly the same historical window) in that regard.

Granted, “Mr. Selfridge” isn’t quite as thrilling as its title character might envision the art of shopping to be, but for those in the market for another period soap, it should ably close the sale.

Watch Mr. Selfridge Preview on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

Mr. Selfridge

(Series; PBS, Sun. March 31, 9 p.m.)

Filmed in London by ITV Studios and Masterpiece. Executive producers, Andrew Davies, Kate Lewis, Rebecca Eaton; producers, Jeremy Piven, Chrissy Skinns; co-producer, Carmel Maloney; director, Jon Jones; writer, Davies; camera, Gavin Finney; production designer, Rob Harris; editor, Chris Barwell; music, Charlie Mole; casting, Kate Rhodes James. 120 MIN.

With: Jeremy Piven, Zoe Tapper, Frances O’Connor, Gregory Fitoussi, Aisling Loftus, Katherine Kelly, Ron Cook, Amanda Abbington, Samuel West.

TV Review: 'Mr. Selfridge'

More TV

  • Visitors arrive at the Hudson Yards

    AT&T Sells WarnerMedia Hudson Yards Space to Pay Down Debt

    AT&T has cut a deal to sell and lease back its WarnerMedia office space in New York’s glitzy Hudson Yards development for $2.2 billion to help pare down its enormous debt load. AT&T said Tuesday it has set a deal to sell its office space at 30 Hudson Yards to an affiliate of Related Companies, [...]

  • Japanese actor Ken Watanabe poses on

    Ken Watanabe to Star in Japan Edition of 'The Fugitive'

    Warner Bros. International Television Production and Japan’s TV Asahi network are teaming to remake “The Fugitive” as a special program that celebrates TV Asahi’s 60th anniversary. Ken Watanabe (“The Last Samurai,” “Godzilla,” “Inception”) will star in the title role made famous by David Janssen in the 1963-1967 U.S. TV series and then by Harrison Ford [...]

  • black lgbtq actors hollywood representation

    TV Roundup: 'Pose' Season 2 Premiere Date Pushed Back on FX

    In today’s roundup, “Pose” gets a new Season 2 premiere date and Sara Gilbert is set to play a recurring role on Season 3 of Netflix’s “Atypical.” FIRST LOOK The TV Academy has unveiled the key art for the 71st Emmy Awards. The new design, which will be used across platforms including the Emmy’s website, [...]

  • James Holzhauer Jeopardy

    Why James Holzhauer Is Bad for 'Jeopardy!' (Column)

    James Holzhauer, who is closing in on a million dollars of game-show winnings, is on track to become the most successful “Jeopardy!” contestant of all time. And he’s become such a dominant force that a historic run has come to seem, as television, boring. Over the course of thirteen episodes and counting, Holzhauer’s methods and [...]

  • Joe Ianniello

    CBS Suspends CEO Search, Extends Ianniello in Role Through 2019

    CBS Corp. said it would suspend the months-long search it has conducted for a new leader for the company since the departure of Leslie Moonves and would instead extend the tenure of its acting chief, Joseph Ianniello, through the end of 2019. “Joe has demonstrated exceptional leadership during this time of unprecedented transition at CBS. [...]

  • Wanda Sykes Silicon Valleywood

    Wanda Sykes on Doing Business With Netflix: 'They Moved That Comma'

    MENLO PARK, Calif. — Wanda Sykes wears a lot of hats as a comedian, writer, producer and entrepreneur, and that gives her a keen sense of the ever-growing content marketplace. She also has a very clear understanding of what she’s worth in dollars and cents, as she shared Tuesday in her Q&A at Variety’s Silicon [...]

  • Jenna Hager Hoda Kotb

    NBC News Sets Joanne LaMarca as EP, 'Today' Fourth Hour

    Just after NBC News recalibrated the fourth our of its daytime “Today” program, it has named a new executive producer to oversee the show. Joanne LaMarca, a longtime “Today” staffer who left NBC News in 2017 after a long run, will return as the new head of the 10 a.m. hour that is now led by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content