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Primal Screen

'Mr. Selfridge' turns a department store into the greatest show on earth

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

'Mr. Selfridge'


“Mr. Selfridge” (8pm Sun, PBS)
Jeremy Piven provides Masterpiece Classic with a jolt of American energy, rousing the series from its recent Downton Abbey lethargy. In the eight-part “Mr. Selfridge,” Piven plays the real-life Harry Gordon Selfridge, a brash Chicago huckster who pioneered the modern department store in turn-of-the-century London.

Before Selfridge arrived, English shopping was a staid affair. Harry turns it into the greatest show on earth, P.T. Barnum-style. He anticipates consumer culture by making his store into a wish-fulfillment fantasy, complete with lavish window displays and cosmetic counters. When his financing falls through, Selfridge orders his stunned underlings to double the advertising budget. “I must say that the reckless way you conduct your business dismays and, yes, frightens me,” says a British employee who is clearly unprepared for the American Century.

On Entourage, Piven played one of the greatest con men in TV history, the agent Ari Gold. The blustering Selfridge is Gold with a top hat and watch chain, but Piven makes adjustments to be convincing in period drag. Most of all, he communicates how much fun it is to sell a skeptical country on your grand vision.

Whatever “Mr. Selfridge” is selling over the next eight weeks, I’m buying.

Fall to Grace (7pm Thu, HBO)
Jim McGreevey was the New Jersey governor with presidential aspirations who fell from grace after being forced to admit his homosexuality. McGreevey resigned in 2004 amid scandal but then — per the title of Alexandra Pelosi’s inspiring documentary — fell to grace in his life’s next act. McGreevey is now proudly gay and an aspiring Episcopalian minister who works with women in prison. He has the same charisma that once propelled him into office, but a different set of values. He recognizes the destructive nature of his ego, and the shame drilled into him during his Catholic upbringing. Humbled, he identifies with the imprisoned women who’ve made mistakes but still yearn for a shot at fulfillment. “Nobody should be defined by the nadir of their lives,” he insists.

Our hero doesn’t appear to be playing a saint for the cameras, but to have learned from his experiences and achieved a sort of enlightenment. I know he’ll hate me for saying this, but I can’t help it: McGreevey for President 2016.

American Masters: “Philip Roth: Unmasked” (9pm Fri, PBS)
Philip Roth, the bard of Jewish American life, has long been my favorite contemporary novelist. I can relate to Nicole Krauss, who’s quoted in “Philip Roth: Unmasked,” “His provocations, his sense of humor, his intelligence have kept me company as a reader almost all my life.”

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