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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mr. Selfridge is a biographical series about an early department store maven that features lots of scenes of adultery, though folks are mostly clothed and discrete. One main character is addicted to cocaine, and there are many scenes of characters drinking at parties; some people act aggressively or flirty after having drinks. There are many scenes where characters are insulted for not being attractive or wealthy enough. The rise of the department store may not be a subject that interests younger viewers, but teens, especially those with an interest in fashion, may want to watch and parents may enjoy watching with them. If so, parents may want to make points about the downside of reckless consumption and unchecked consumerism.
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What's the story?
Jeremy Piven is MR. SELFRIDGE, the self-made scion of legendary London department store Selfridges. But when we meet him, he's just a loudmouthed American meeting resistance from the Londoners who aren't interested in a Yank coming over and trying to tell them how to run things. Selfridge has boundless confidence when coming up with new ways to promote his store, and a lot of adoring things to say to his faithful, long-suffering wife, Rose (Frances O'Connor) and four children. But in private, he cheats on Rose with a succession of free-living dancers and socialites and will do just about anything to keep his business going. Meanwhile, the smiling phalanx of employees who serve his customers each have their own stories to tell...and their own secrets.
Is it any good?
PBS marketed Mr. Selfridge as a vintage cousin to its much-beloved Downton Abbey. But though this drama comes similarly wrapped in period-correct hairstyles and velvet gowns, it's no Downton. The acting is a bit more over-the-top; the plot points are less absorbing; the characters not as finely drawn. Nonetheless, particularly for those who enjoy whiling away hours in a bygone world, Mr. Selfridge is a fun little melodrama with incredible costumes, sets, and art direction.
Piven himself makes an enjoyable huckster, sweating and straining to make people notice his store. He hires everyone from famous ballet dancers to Sherlock Holmes in pursuit of free publicity with P.T. Barnum-ish zeal. Then he rolls in bed with his wife and tells her how very much he loves her... just before he sets his mistress up in an apartment. The antiheroic hero is in style these days, popping up in The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, amongst other spots. But there's something about Selfridge, or possibly the way Piven plays him, that makes him harder to watch (and to love) than those other characters. Maybe that's why Mr. Selfridge is merely entertaining instead of addictive.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ideas Selfridge had about shopping and how the experience of shopping has changed. Do shop attendants help you with your purchases in stores now? How is shopping different in our modern times?
Is the audience supposed to like Selfridge? Admire him? Or draw cautionary lessons from his life? What about the way he is presented makes you draw this conclusion?
Do you know any other TV shows that take place in a bygone setting? How is Mr. Selfridge alike? How is it different?