Last year January the tv scheduling year began with Sherlock on the BBC. This year they have Ripper Street. I haven’t seen it and though it has had impressive reviews and an enticing trailer with Jerome Flynn and Matthew McFadyen, it just hasn’t looked interesting. Probably my loss.
ITV have tried to compete against BBC drama in 2013 it appears with some interesting new programmes coming up including one with David Tennant and Olivia Colman. They also have some terrible new programmes like Splash! with Tom Daley on Saturday nights which has “celebrities” attempting to dive, mentored by Tom Daley and judged by Jo Brand. Hosted by Vernon Kaye and the newly ubiquitous Gabby Roslin, it’s worse than it sounds with high pitched screaming from the crowd whenever Daley comes on and no entertainment factor at all.
But they’ve started with something to fill the Sunday 9pm Downton slot that has a high profile cast, historical setting and written by successful adaptor Andrew Davies. The story of Selfridges may not sound that interesting but department store dramas are the new thing: witness BBC’s drama The Paradise. But the ITV drama not only has Jeremy Piven in its leading role as Harry Selfridge and Frances O’Connor as his wife Rose but also Samuel West in a relatively minor role as newspaper man Frank Edwards.
The first episode had very much the feel of a pilot setting things up for the rest of the series. It starts with the opening of Selfridges in 1909 and then flashbacks over the year before which got Selfridge to this point. It’s never clear why Selfridge chose to move to London but it’s obvious his plans for the store are clever and groundbreaking even if he can’t get much support in London until it opens. Various characters are introduced. Working in the shop are Mrs Brittas in dresses, Martin Freeman’s partner and star of Malteser adverts, Amanda Abbington, as head of accessories and Aisling Loftus, recently seen in Good Cop, as senior saleswoman in accessories – the everywoman role to contrast the high society Selfridge keeps. As though he’s a committed husband and father there are temptations from a Lady Mae who becomes an investor but with possible strings attached and there’s Ellen Love, a stage actress who Harry recruits as ‘face’ of Selfridges.
As I said, the first episode doesn’t have much plot. There aren’t any characters that you really feel for yet or much dramatic tension but it has promise and should improve now that the store is open and story lines can progress. I have faith enough in Andrew Davies and the cast to at least give it another episode. It’s not the new Sherlock or Downton but it’ll do for these long dark January nights. Selfridges are getting some really good advertising out of this though and I hope they’re paying the production company something for it.