PBS just finished airing season one of this series, although season/series 2 has already started in the UK. Given the subject matter (a Victorian era department store in England), comparisons between this show and Mr. Selfridge are inevitable. For the first two or three episodes, I found myself comparing them, and it gave me an unfavorable opinion of the Paradise. Over the course of the 8-episode season, however, the show really grew on me. I forgot to compare it to Mr. Selfridge, and could enjoy it much more for that fact.
The Paradise centers around the eponymous department store in 1875 in Northeast England. The show is a re-interpretation of an Emile Zola novel set in France during the same period. The store is owned and run by the handsome Mr. Moray (Emun Elliott), who started from humble roots and is slightly obsessed with expanding his empire.
Moray is loosely-tied to Katherine Glendenning, a spoiled rich girl who is pretty obviously trying to tie him down in marriage. Moray is still grieving over the loss of his first wife, and dithers over decisions about this relationship. Both Katherine and her father prove themselves, over the course of the season, willing to do anything to get what they want. This includes manipulation of people and circumstances to their own favor. They’re pretty terrible people.
The other main focus of the show is Denise (Joanna Vanderham), a girl from the country who has just arrived to work in her uncle’s draper shop.
Unfortunately, the competition of the Paradise on his street has dried up her uncle’s business. He doesn’t have enough money to support Denise, nor enough work to keep her busy. Having few options, Denise seeks employment at the Paradise. She proves, very quickly, that she is smart and creative, full of new ideas for how to improve the business in the store. Mr. Moray takes a shine to her almost immediately.
This is an ensemble cast, with a lot of characters. Besides Moray, there are other managerial figures with their own minor storylines (Dudley is Moray’s 2nd in command; Jonas is in charge of ‘security’ and is a pretty intimidating figure; Miss Audrey is Denise’s boss, the head of Ladieswear). There are other sales associates in the store (Sam, the flirt, Clara, the mean girl, Pauline, the nice girl). I think the show does a good job of balancing the main characters with these side stories. I think everyone’s acting was very good, and that really helps you to care about characters that are not always in the forefront of the show.
My only complaint is that the relationship between Moray and Katherine isn’t always clear at the beginning of the season. Part of that is his inability to make up his mind, but the show doesn’t always make it clear who or what stands between them, or what brings them together. It’s very clear by the end of the series how they feel about each other, so that may be why I enjoyed the later episodes more.
As I said, the comparisons with Mr. Selfridge are inevitable. But this show really grew on me over the course of the season, and I quite enjoyed the last two or three episodes especially. I hope PBS decides to show season 2 next year, but I fear it will be late next year if it comes to the US. PBS has a pretty full schedule in Spring, with Downton Abbey and Sherlock coming soon.