Since it began, ITV’s (and a few months later, PBS’s) Mr. Selfridge has been like Downton Abbey‘s spunky, half-American cousin. It’s not quite as gorgeously costumed or as sweepingly scored, but it’s fun and it’s plucky. The show’s myriad, swirling subplots keep the hours jam-packed, yet plots don’t get burned through particularly quickly. Time jumps (like the one that starts Season 3) are purposeful, and serve the story — one which picks up this year stronger than any other.
Selfridge‘s third season starts in 1919, skipping over World War I, but not forgetting it. Unlike Downton Abbey (it’s impossible not to compare the two, especially since they are treading along the same timeline), Mr. Selfridge doesn’t want to forget about the war as a pesky thing that dampened country life for a few years. The ghosts of Verdun and the Somme haunt Selfridge‘s London streets, both in the form of unemployed and maimed soldiers, and in the PTSD symptoms of others.
As for Mr. Selfridge (Jeremy Piven), he’s as forward-thinking and bombastic as ever, but is haunted by ghosts of his own. Rose (Frances O’Connor) has passed, leaving Harry trying to fund enormous charity work in her memory. But while the store is humming along nicely in post-war England, it can’t fund Harry’s side projects and still keep on all of its female workers from the war, along with other expansions. Mr. Crabb (Ron Cook) and Mr. Grove (Tom Goodman-Hill) are both on hand to help try and temper their boss, but his drive (and his eye towards a feisty young land developer, Nancy Webb — Kelly Adams — has him distracted from the store.
The Selfridge children also have bigger roles to play this season, in addition to Gordon (Adam Wilson) learning the trade from his father. Rosalie’s (Kara Tointon) marriage to a Russian playboy aviator (Leon Ockenden) is fraught with drama from the onset, and his schemes with his Princess mother (Zoe Wanamaker) make things hard for the family. Youngest daughter Violette (Hannah Tointon), meanwhile, seems to be becoming the face of women of means who want to do more than just shop.
As always, Mr. Selfridge touches on a lot of societal issues and changes, and handles them — if not exactly delicately — with due time and consideration. Miss Mardle (Amanda Abbington), Kitty Hawkins (now Edwards, played by Amy Beth Hayes), and Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus) are all other different kinds of examples of women making their way up the ranks in the business, but each also have their own dramas to deal with, also (almost all of which are related to their beaus and the war).
Selfridge being Selfridge, some of those innumerable plots fizzle out or drag on (particularly with Agnes and Henri — Gregory Fitoussi — whose struggles with his secrets we’ve gone through before), but overall the series continues to be an easily-engrossing and layered tale of the department store and its many workers, past and present. Even Victor (Trystan Gravelle) has his part to play as a nightclub owner to whom many former Selfridge employees handily frequent.
But that’s the thing about Mr. Selfridge. Like Call the Midwife, with which it’s paired, it’s comforting, easily-digestible programming. It doesn’t need to be high art, it’s just going about its business of storytelling, the kind that’s winsome and engaging, with a constant sense of possibility as embodied by Piven’s Selfridge. There are new friendship alliances, plenty of changes to the store, devilish nemeses (more than several!), and lots of drama in Season 3. But in the end, the world of Mr. Selfridge is always bright, and ever-changing. It may not be perfect, but it’s a delight.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
Mr. Selfridge Season 3 premieres on PBS Sunday, March 29th at 9 p.m. ET