Tag Archives: Jeremy Piven

Mr. Selfridge on PBS

Mr. SelfridgePBS recently finished airing the first season of Mr. Selfridge, a period drama based on the true story of the American self-made man that created one of the first English department stores–a store that still stands today, though it is far too expensive for me to have purchased anything there. The show aired early in the year in the UK on ITV, and did well enough that they have ordered a second season, to premiere in 2014.

I was concerned about Jeremy Piven, because he seems so slimy in most of his roles, but I really loved him and I loved this show. Piven plays the eponymous lead, Harry Gordon Selfridge. The show begins with him arriving on the scene in London to scare up funding and publicity for a store that hasn’t even been built, on the ‘unfashionable end’ of Oxford Street.  Ten episodes make up the first season, most of which revolve around Harry and his home family, and Harry and his work family.  He has an endless amount of women causing problems in his life–to be fair, most of the problems are his own doing.

Harry Selfridge and his ladiesThere’s his patient and loving wife Mary clutching his arm.  She’s played by the wonderful Frances O’Conner, and endures quite a lot from a man who does love her, but is not the best at being faithful or attentive. On the left is Lady Mae, a connected noblewoman who Harry relies on to help him secure funding and fix publicity problems.  She is not the sort of woman you want to owe favors to, but she is the exact woman you do owe favors to if you want to get anything done.

On the right is Ellen Love, a showgirl with whom Harry begins an affair.  She is everything pathetic and typical about the other woman. Nothing but trouble, hopelessly naive and convinced Harry will leave his wife and children to be with her.

The work family focuses on a few main characters.  The most important of which is Agnes Towler. She ends up in a love triangle (square?  some shape…) with two men who work at the store, VictorAgnes, Henri and Victor (on the right) and Henri (on the left). Agnes is probably my favorite character in the show.  She supports herself and her brother, she’s strong and independent, and she’s quite creative.  My only slight gripe with her is that it’s never quite obvious to me why all the men are so violently in love with her.  Still, I enjoyed watching her story.

Also central to the action are Mr. Grove, the chief of staff at the department store, and Miss Mardle, the Accessories supervisor.

Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle

Though Mr. Grove is married to a very sick woman, the two are having an affair.  What we later learn is a very long-term affair.  Of course, no one at the department store can know this as it is against the rules. Mr. Grove proved himself to be a thorough scoundrel in my book, more and more with each episode.  Miss Mardle was of interest to me, partially because she is played by Amanda Abbington, who is the ‘long-term partner’ of Martin Freeman.  Damn her.  Anyway, she will be in the next season of Sherlock, so I wanted to see her act in something.  She was good. Though the character is a very demur and repressed woman, she did convey a lot of depth of emotion.

Everyone in this show seems to have a secret relationship.  Harry and Ellen Love, Agnes and Henri, Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle, Agnes and Victor, Victor and Lady Mae…think of a combination and they’ve gone there.  I was most interested in Mrs. Selfridge’s relationship with a young painter, Roderick Temple, who bore a striking resemblance to a 6’5″ version of Neville Longbottom.

Mr. Selfridge Roderick Temple

Matthew Lewis

Who knew Neville Longbottom would grow up to look like that?  Anyway, his resemblance to Neville made me predisposed to like him.  Plus, artist points.  But he proves himself to be a scoundrel as well–I’m detecting a theme. None of these men are to be trusted!

Obviously all of these love stories have elements of the soap opera tropes about them.  I think what sets this show apart is the setting, the time and place and industry in which it is set.

It lends itself very naturally to comparisons with Downton Abbey–there are love stories, infidelities, a multitude of class interactions, and they are occupying the same piece of history–but they are very different shows.  DA is, at its heart, a soap opera. Everyone is either entirely good or entirely despicable (the only exception I can think of to this is O’Brien, but her brief foray into being a good person ended after a few episodes, so it barely counts).  The tension revolves around whether a couple will end up together, and which person Julian Fellowes will kill off.  The other big source of tension is the never-ending struggle to maintain the status quo.  The big house, the landed gentry, the old Tory way of life in the country.

Mr. Selfridge could not be more different. The fact that they exist at the same time, are set in the same time and in the same country is something I had to keep reminding myself.  Mr. Selfridge is actually set earlier than DA, which is even more strange. The show features a main character that wants to embrace everything new and modern.  In the 1910s, that means automobiles, explorers, ready-to-wear clothing, cosmetics for respectable women (gasp!), and a new-found love of shopping. The first episode shows Harry Selfridge going into a typical London shop.  Everything was kept under the counter, and you had to ask to look at individual items.  Selfridge wanted his customers to be able to see and touch the products, so that they might be enticed to buy something other than what they needed. He really understood what the experience of shopping could be.  Part of me wishes society hadn’t taken this turn to the ridiculously commercial and superficial, but it would have happened with our without Harry Selfridge.  I digress, but my point is that it is fascinating from a historical perspective to see these changes toward a modern society and away from the 19th century.

I think that facet, ultimately, is what made me enjoy this show (perhaps, though I am afraid to say it) more than Downton Abbey.  I really looked forward to watching it every week, and am looking forward to a second season.

Upcoming TV highlights

There are a whole score of new and returning shows on TV this month and next. I thought it might be a good time to discuss them.

First of all, the end of March marked the return of Doctor Who!

The Doctor and OswinAnd there’s a new outfit, a new TARDIS, and a new companion.  If you watched season 7, you already know Oswin.  Can I say already that I love her?  I love her.  She is super smart, she is a conundrum, and she is simultaneously friendly, playful, and not afraid to stand up to the Doctor.  Add to the wonderfulness of her character, she is a real enigma.  The Doctor doesn’t understand her, and he finds anything he doesn’t understand really mesmerizing.  It’s a totally different dynamic than the big brother relationship he had with Amy and Rory.  And I really like his new coat.  I feel like maybe I’m getting my expectations up too high.  Last season was a little disappointing for me, and I don’t want to get too excited and then be disappointed again. But…it’s probably too late.  I’ve seen the first episode and I really liked it, and I love their dynamic, and I’m really excited for what’s coming next.  Dr. Who is on BBC America on Saturday nights at 8 Eastern.

Orphan Black bannerPremiering that same night was the new series,  Orphan Black. Although this is on BBC America, it doesn’t actually seem to be a British show. It is set in Canada, I believe, though it is never explicitly stated.  The ‘main’ character, Sarah, is British, as is her best friend Paul.  Only the actors aren’t actually British, but whatever.  The show seems interesting; I haven’t made my mind up about it yet.  It begins with Sarah (a woman with questionable morals and a shady background) seeing a woman, Beth, who looks exactly like her, jump in front of a train.  She takes over Beth’s seemingly swanky life (wasn’t this the plot to that Sarah Michelle Gellar show, Ringer?), mostly based on the fact that the woman had money and nice clothes.  Remind me to never take over my dead clone’s life based on her clothing quality, because it just doesn’t turn out well.  She has to get to know Beth’s boyfriend (including possibly the most graphic sex scene I’ve ever seen on a non-premium channel), deal with a police inquest over a shooting in the line of duty (oh, Beth was a cop?) and a mysterious safety deposit box full of birth certificates.  Sarah proves herself to be pretty stupid in this first episode.  Her goal is to get her daughter back from whomever is caring for her, and to start a new life.  Her first plan is to steal heroin from her ex and sell it for $20k.  Her next plan is to have her best friend identify Beth’s mangled body as Sarah, and steal all of Beth’s savings.  It never occurs to her that her daughter might find out that Sarah has been declared dead, but of course that is what happens.  She seems to really lack the ability to think about consequences, but we know very little about her back story, except that she is an orphan.

This show is iffy.  Could turn out well, could be implausible and ridiculous.  I’m going to give it a few more episodes before I make a verdict.  It’s on after Doctor Who, Saturdays on BBC America at 9 Eastern.

Mr. SelfridgeThe last weekend in March was a big one for me! Also premiering, on PBS this time, was Mr. Selfridge, a proper British period drama about Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the eponymous store on Oxford Street.  I had no idea he was American, but apparently he emigrated from Chicago to open the world’s best department store in London.  It just finished airing in England, so kudos to PBS for getting it over here in less than 6 months.  They’re getting better!

Jeremy Piven plays a non-douchebag, which I didn’t approve of at first.  Have they seen Entourage?  I haven’t, I’ll admit, but his suits were too shiny for me to see him as a non-douche.  Right? Look at this picture and then argue with me:

Ari Gold

So, I’ll reiterate that I wasn’t sure about all this, but Jeremy Piven is really good!  It helps that the character is bombastic and grandiose. He needs to act that way because, as we learn in the very first episode, he is in deep trouble with money.  He needs a lot of money, press, and publicity to make his store a hit, so he has to be more confident than he is.

The show follows Mr. Selfridge, obviously, but it is also a Downton-esque ensemble cast of high- and low-class characters. There are: his wife, who meets a (very) handsome artist at the National Gallery; the shopgirl Agnes Towler who works in the accessories department and her struggles with her brother, her father, and her suitor; other employees in the store both friendly and not; Miss Love, the actress and potential mistress for Mr. Selfridge; ruthless investors in the store; and I’m sure there will be more in later episodes.

There were a lot of interesting dynamics between classes, like any British drama worth its name.  Add to that, the genuinely interesting concept of the first true department store.  Most shops prior to this time period, especially in England, did not have displays as we do now.  There were counters, and you would go up and ask to see a specific type of glove or hat, etc.  Or, if you were wealthy, you would have a dressmaker, milliner, etc., come to your house for a fitting in your own home.  The art and hobby of shopping wasn’t the same.  Ready-to-wear clothing wasn’t the same, either.  So seeing this revolution happen in the show is intriguing.  I found the first episode really entertaining and cannot wait for the next episode.  Hopefully the quality stays the same throughout.  My only complaint is that in the intro on PBS, Laura Linney was talking about the show and described it using the following words about Mr. Selfridge: “He was the first person to know what women really want.  They want to go shopping.”

Oh, Laura Linney.  Why?  Why would you say that? Who wrote that?  Blech.

The Spies of WarsawAttention all Doctor Who fans! David Tennant is returning to our TV screens!  For a limited time only!  This is a two-part mini-series on BBC America, about a WWII era spy.  It begins in 1937, in Poland, France, and Germany.  David Tennant stars as Col. Mercier, a French ‘military attaché stationed in Poland. He alone sees the war coming, where his comrades don’t want to admit what is happening in Europe.  I don’t know much about the plot yet, but the NY Times called describes it almost as a whodunnit, more like a Christie novel than Casablanca, which it seems to want to be.  There is a love triangle, but the upcoming War is the real story of the mini-series.  Also according to the Times, despite the weaknesses in Spies of Warsaw, “there is nothing more satisfying than a prewar espionage story that shows, up close and told-you-so, how most of Europe slept through Hitler’s rise.”

It’s playing on BBC America on April 3rd and 10th, but I’m quite certain they will replay it several times over the next month or two.

Although I didn’t watch it, I should mention that the second season of Call the Midwife also premiered at the end of March. It airs every Sunday night on PBS, and is also available on their website.

Also coming soon on PBS is something I’m really excited to see: The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley CircleThis aired last year in the UK.  Set in 1952, it follows four women who worked as code breakers at Bletchley Park (the main center for decryption/codebreaking in the UK during WWII).  If that wasn’t bad ass enough, it’s also a murder mystery. Police are overlooking a pattern in the killings, but these code-breaking badass ladies in their cardigans are smart enough to see it. It’s only a 3 part mini-series, but it sounds awesome. I love to see women in period pieces that have more to do than just swoon and get married.  The Bletchley Circle premieres on PBS on April 21st.

Looks like it’s going to be a great spring for us anglophiles!