The latest PBS offering on “Masterpiece Classic” is “Mr. Selfridge,” a period drama set in turn-of-the-century England. Sound familiar?
“Mr. Selfridge” tells the story of real-life department store mogul Harry Gordon Selfridge (Jeremy Piven), who revolutionized the world of shopping when he opened Selfridge & Co. in London in 1909. Will “Downton Abbey” fans get their period drama fix with this new program? Yes and no.
On the one hand, “Mr. Selfridge” has many of the trappings viewers love about “Downton” — period costumes and sets, an upstairs/downstairs feel between the wealthy Selfridge, his friends and customers, and the working-class people who are employed at his store.
However, whereas “Downton” has always focused on propriety and upholding the old ways in an ever-changing world, “Mr. Selfridge” is about looking forward, an entrepreneur working his way up the social ladder with his salesmanship and vision.
It gives “Selfridge” a very different feel from “Downton” and it’s hard to say if that will help it or hurt it. A “Downton” clone would probably not be terribly popular — how many times can you catch lightning in a bottle? But is “Selfridge” too different from “Downton” to keep the same viewers?
We don’t feel that it is. While we don’t have the same rush of affection as we did when we first discovered “Downton,” we found “Mr. Selfridge” entertaining. There are interesting characters, particularly in shop girl Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus), a poor girl who looks after her brother and is sort of on the run from her abusive, alcoholic father.
Towler is a favorite of Mr. Selfridge’s, catches the eye of window dresser Henri Leclair (Gregory Fitoussi) and has to deal with a boss, Miss Mardle (Amanda Abbington), who is like if Mrs. Hughes had the disposition of Miss O’Brien.
In addition to Towler, “Selfridge” offers some intriguing romantic entanglements for its titular character. Harry has a wandering eye (among other body parts), despite having a loving wife and four children at home. The latest woman to catch his eye is theatre performer Ellen Love (Zoe Tapper), who sees Selfridge as her ticket out of the cabaret. And it’s not as though his wife, Rose (Frances O’Connor), is in the dark as to his comings and goings.
It will be interesting to watch Harry balance his work persona with his family man and playboy personas. Piven does an adequate job as Selfridge. Sometimes it’s as though Ari Gold has found himself in early 20th century London — we’re hoping to see more nuance to Selfridge as the show goes on.
Overall, though, it’s entertaining, which sometimes is enough. And it will certainly help pass the time until “Downton” returns — though there’s definitely no Dowager Countess-like character to be seen.
“Mr. Selfridge” premieres Sunday, March 31 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on PBS.