We are now half way through the latest Masterpiece Theater mini-series, Mr. Selfridge, and the most obvious problem is that no one seems to even notice or care that it’s on television (of course airing on Sunday nights during Game of Thrones/Mad Men season doesn’t help.)
Well, Leslie noticed it and sent me this email:
Did you catch this abomination, Mr. Selfridge? Every time Piven was onscreen, I cringed. It was, at best, boring. Would love your thoughts.
Her letter gets us straight to the problem:
Based on the true story of an American who opened a hugely successful department store in London in the early 1900s, it has many of the elements that draw us to Downton Abbey. Similar time frame, beautiful sets, tension between the lower-class employees and the wealthy shoppers and owners…
But the success of the show is entirely on Jeremy Piven’s shoulders and that’s where it all falls apart. He plays him like Ari Gold on Entourage but without the humor. He feels like such a modern day man, almost as if he time traveled there. He’s your classic “my dad didn’t love me so I’m going to be successful and awesome and make everyone love me to fill the dad-shaped hole in my heart.”
But we don’t love him. He’s a nice enough employer, a cheat of a husband, overly impressed with himself and just generally, nothing new. He also mopes, which is NEVER GOOD in a leading man.
I’m enjoying the show mainly because I really like some of the supporting characters: Agnes Towler (the shopgirl who has an abusive dad but a great eye for window display visuals), Lady May (the chorus girl turned aristocrat who enjoys the fact that Selfridge is beholden to her), and Miss Mardle & Mr. Grove (store managers having a secret affair).
With the right portrayal of Mr Selfridge (by which I mean a combination of Matthew, Bates and Mr. Darcy) this show could have been a real standout. But that could only happen if Selfridge was the kind of man you were attracted to and rooted for and couldn’t wait to see what he did next. I always know what he’s going to do next: get a glint in his eye, clap his hands and loudly proclaim his store’s greatness. I’m not attracted to him and I’m rooting for Lady May, Mrs. Selfridge and those sweet Towler kids.
Cute side note: Amanda Abbington, who plays Miss Mardle, and her partner Martin Freeman have two adorable children:
(PLEASE bring back Sherlock!)