Harry Selfridge made shopping fun. Sure, people always shopped, but it was more of a chore before Selfridge redefined the experience in 1909.
Though many Americans may not know his name, the lush eight-part series “Mr. Selfridge,” launching on PBS' “Masterpiece Classic” at 8 p.m. Sunday on OETA-13, brings viewers into his world. It's well worth the visit.
Jeremy Piven (“Entourage”) is perfectly cast as the brash American in the title role.
“I would describe him as a burst of bright light, hopefully endearing and a powerful energy that possibly takes up a lot of energy in the room and yet is in love with what he does and his family and makes everyone in the room feel special,” Piven said.
It's an apt description for the man who seems to always have something to prove and whose charisma enchants people.
Set in England around the same time as “Downton Abbey,” “Mr. Selfridge” is very much its own series.
“I lump it in with ‘Downton,' but it has a pace all its own,” Piven said. “It has a sense of humor. Those who like period drama, come in; you will not be disappointed. And those who don't now where PBS is, come in; it is a totally accessible world.”
Sure, it's a far more mannered universe, yet human nature stays the same.
“People have the same demons,” Piven said. “They are not hiding behind an iPhone and texting. You have to go face to face. You can't hide. To me, what better time to depict as an actor?”
In the pilot, Selfridge announces, “We are going to show the world how to make shopping thrilling.”
He does. Selfridge has a more than a touch of P.T. Barnum in him. He's a man of appetites, a huge ego and a visionary. Surrounded by naysayers, Selfridge creates, from a hole in the ground in an unfashionable corner of London, a magnificent store — Selfridges — that makes people want to shop.
Frances O'Connor (“Cashmere Mafia”), who plays Rose, Selfridge's wife, said when she shops there, “Your heart rate goes up. It is such a beautiful store, with high ceilings, and when you enter, it is so glamorous.”
Rose is a smart, established woman who knows her husband is having affairs. By the second episode, she is determined to not be lonely.
“I can understand why he chose her,” O'Connor said. “She has a quiet strength, a sense of being grounded, and is very reassuring. She's her own person. She's not ever going to be a suffragette.”