Friday, March 28, 2014

Strictly Melodrama

So, a while ago, I wrote a post about The Paradise, in which I referenced Mr. Selfridge and stated that I really didn't like Selfridge all that much. Well, I do have a couple main qualms with the show, but the first SERIES (because it's British and they call it a SERIES) recently re-aired on PBS at like 3 a.m. and it ended up on my DVR and I decided to give it another go. I ended up actually... liking it. Okay, it's a pretty typical melodrama with touches of bodice ripping, but who doesn't want to listen to me yell, "Giiirrl! Giirrrlll! Ohhhh, giiiirrrrl he is a dawwwgggg, girl!" at my TV? AS I SUSPECTED.

Downton Abbey what?

Since Downton Abbey has completely jumped the rails, I have been seeking my costumed aggression elsewhere. However, I know I am putting off the inevitable, because like an unhealthy relationship, I'm sure I'll eventually be going right back to DA so it can let me down again. Then my friends will be all like, "Girl, why you going back to that? You know it's just gonna let you down" and I'll be like, "I knooowww. But I was wondering what happened and I thought maybe it would be better this time." And then my friends would be all

Since I need my dose of people sobbing in corsets, I have decided to give Mr. Selfridge another shot. Like Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge is an ensemble show. The protagonist is Harry Selfridge, the Brash American Who Defies English Stuffiness.

The drama is based on the real-life Selfridge & Co, and which opened on March 15, 1909. So there are big hats. And these newfangled automobiles. 

The show is based off the book Shopping, Seduction and & Mr Selfridge, by Lindy Woodhead, available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other fine retailers. Although I disagree with this book's tagline, "If you lived at Downton Abbey, you shopped at Selfridge's." Upon my word, ladies do not do their own shopping. That's servants' work. Heavens!

Jeremy Piven leads the cast as Harry Gordon Selfridge, the Chicago businessman who comes to London to open a department store in direct competition to the storied Harrod's. 

And I'm here to organize the River City Boys' Band.

Harry's brash style rubs the British press and many potential well-heeled investors the wrong way, and quite honestly, it's kind of easy to see why. I mentioned before I didn't like this show at first, and that's because I didn't really care for Jeremy Piven in the first three or four episodes. I'm kind of used to him at this point, but the show has done such a good job of creating an interesting ensemble piece that they've created a situation where the supporting cast is more interesting than the main lead. I don't know if this comes down to writing, directing, or personal taste, but I can't really say I am a fan of Piven's take on the role. I understand that his character is supposed to be the consummate salesman, but in every scene, and in every situation -- including many that are emotionally taxing -- he delivers every line in the same tone of voice while sporting the same shit-eating grin.

This is my concerned face. And my excited face. And my thinking face. And also my concerned face.

I just feel like an actor of Piven's caliber would be able to do more with this role than what I have been seeing thus far in the production, and I'd like to see Piven bring more dimensions and nuances to his character. I don't think he's miscast in the role at all, but I feel like he is trying too hard all of the time to put on a show and if that's deliberate it's coming across to me more as scenery-chewing than ironic emosadz.  I haven't read the book yet (but I made it Goodreads official by adding it to my to-reads) so I don't know if Harry Selfridge was as much of an ass to everyone in real life as he is portrayed to be on the show, but the production has created a lead role that isn't terribly likable or sympathetic. Don Draper he ain't.

Early character sketch.

Fortunately for us, the writers have provided us with a really fun and interesting supporting cast featuring characters whom we can root for and throw rotten produce at. The most likable and interesting character is our prosh ingenue, Agnes Towler. Agnes is a working-class gal trying to make a life for herself and her brother, since their mum died and their dad is a no-good drunkard. 

In the pilot, Agnes had a job at a swank store in London, until she was fired because someone named Harry Selfridge came into the store and encouraged her to try on a pair of gloves. Harry gives Agnes a chance to get hired at Selfridge's, if only his store was actually open. Harry is finally able to procure backing from Lady Locksley, and Agnes is one of his first hires. She starts off working at the accessories counter with Kitty and Doris, who develop plot lines and characterizations in their own right throughout the course of the first SERIES. 

Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd.

Agnes also has a romance (with a small r) with the Romantic (with a large R) Henri Leclair, ZEE FRENCH ARTEEST who Harry hires to create window displays for the store. This puts a damper on her budding romance (with a small r) with Victor Coleano, who works at the Palm Court restaurant in Selfridge's and has a thing with Agnes until his head is turned by Lady Locksley, who is kind of a ho. Lady Locksley's husband is apparently 100 years old and so she spends her time being a suffragette, backing odd business deals, and being the moral ruin of earnest young men. Just some full on Alexis Carrington realness. 

Yes, but dahhhling. It's good to be a gangsta.

Oh, and did I mention the part about Harry being kind of a philandering slut? Harry is a philandering manwhore. He is constantly cheating on his wife, the long-suffering Rose (exquisitely played by my girl Frances O'Connor). Harry's most significant affair is with Ellen Love, a London burlesque star (and Dr. Who companion reject) WHO WANTS TO BE A REAL ACTRESS SOMEDAY. 

Just no, girl. Just no. 

That's not to say that MRS. Selfridge isn't getting some somethin somethin. She meets an ARTIST FELLOW who paints her portraits and they fall in the lovez. Then Rose tells him she can't see him anymore. Then he starts paying attention to 17-year-old daughter Rosalee and all manner of unmentionable substances hit various electric cooling devices.

Hands off the artist, beyotch. 

So, despite the leading man's drawbacks, there are still a lot of plot lines that the show has going for it. The other major qualm I have with the production is the historical stunt casting. During almost every episode, the store is visited by some notable and inoffensive historical figure in actor form. During the first few episodes, it felt like the show was relying too much on the historical figures to keep the show interesting because none of the non-Harry plot lines had been fully developed. A couple of the later celebrities were more interesting, like polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and ballerina Anna Pavlova, but even they outshone the lead -- and Anna Pavlova didn't even speak any English. I'm a huge geek about Anna Pavlova. I read a biography about her in sixth grade for my English class and after we finished our book reports I checked it out about five more times afterward. Whenever I got to the part where she died of pleurisy I cried buckets. I also looked up pleurisy in the encyclopedia and learned its path of infection. There is nothing wrong with me. Not a damn thing. So I enjoyed seeing a couple of the historical figures, but most of the rest of the guests were mostly filler for me. But I am surprised Harry didn't try to get into her knickers. Or I guess it would be her tutu.

Pro tip: Say: "я не гаварю по-англаийски" when creepy guys approach you on the street. 

One final quibble is about the casting. Every actress on this show in a "serious" part (with the possible exception of Rosalee) is a brunette, and at first all the female characters look the same. I find this brunettist. Or anti-blonde. Anyway, most of the blonde or redheaded actresses are relegated to bit parts and, as a blonde, I find this to be a trigger warning about dumb blonde jokes. That is all.

Aren't sold yet???!! But wait! There's more! For only $19.95 you can watch the new SERIES of Mr. Selfridge on PBS starting March 30. Actually, it's free and everyone gets PBS. You get a PBS! And you get a PBS. AND YOU GET A PBS.


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