View­ers might not be wild about Harry

Piven is per­haps too proper in lat­est TV role

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

JEREMY Piven has some­thing new to sell. The big ques­tion, of course, is this: will any­body buy it? Piven, who toiled for years as an un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated com­mod­ity — in the likes of The Larry San­ders Show, Ellen (the ABC sit­com, not the day­time talk show) and Cupid — got a ca­reerdefin­ing break when he landed the role of su­per­a­gent Ari Gold in the HBO com­edy En­tourage.

Brash, loud and end­lessly pro­fane, Ari Gold was a char­ac­ter that al­lowed Piven to steal ev­ery scene he was in; three sup­port­ing-ac­tor Em­mys later, it might fairly be sug­gested that the ac­tor and the char­ac­ter have be­come in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked in many TV-watch­ers’ minds.

So what to do next? Piven has clearly de­cided the best place to make his re­turn to prime time is as far from the gritty and racy realm of pre­mi­um­ca­ble pro­gram­ming as pos­si­ble.

And that place, it turns out, is the proper world of Brit-flavoured PBS/ Mas­ter­piece drama.

Piven stars in the new Mas­ter­piece Clas­sic se­ries Mr. Sel­fridge (which pre­mières Sun­day at 9 p.m. on Prairie Pub­lic TV), tak­ing on the ti­tle role as Harry Gor­don Sel­fridge, the Amer­i­can-born founder of the renowned Lon­don de­part­ment store that bears his name.

As the se­ries opens, Sel­fridge is hold­ing court with a gag­gle of news­pa­per re­porters be­side a gi­ant hole in the ground that he claims will soon be Lon­don’s most pop­u­lar re­tail des­ti­na­tion.

There is skep­ti­cism, of course (along with a whis­pered dec­la­ra­tion by Sel­fridge’s pri­mary fi­nan­cial backer that he’s back­ing out), but Harry Sel­fridge is a dreamer, a huck­ster and a ruth­less pro­moter of his en­tre­pre­neur­ial vi­sion.

Star­ring Jeremy Piven, Frances O’Connor and Zoe Tap­per Sun­day at 9 p.m. PBS

out of five

Star­ring Jes­sica Raine and Jenny Agut­ter Sun­day at 8 p.m. PBS

De­spite a lack of ac­tual cash to keep the project run­ning, Sel­fridge some­how de­liv­ers on his prom­ise of open­ing the store within a year’s time. Af­ter that, all that’s left is the tricky busi­ness of get­ting Lon­don­ers into the store and their wal­lets out of their pock­ets and hand­bags.

How it’s all done turns out to be a fairly cap­ti­vat­ing pe­riod-piece romp, aided by strong sup­port­ing per­for­mances by Frances O’Connor as Sel­fridge’s long-suf­fer­ing wife, Rose; Zoe Tap­per as Lon­don show­girl Ellen Love, whom Harry woos to be­come “the face of Sel­fridge’s”; and Ais­ling Lof­tus as shop­girl Agnes Towler, whose life is changed by a chance meet­ing with Sel­fridge.

If there’s a prob­lem, sadly, it’s Piven. He’s ei­ther re­strain­ing him­self in this role, or Harry is writ­ten as so re­strained that it’s sti­fling the ac­tor’s ev­ery im­pulse. Ei­ther way, Mr. Sel­fridge never quite feels like a ve­hi­cle whose star is fully im­mersed in his char­ac­ter.

And that makes Mr. Sel­fridge, de­spite other ap­peal­ing el­e­ments, a bit of a hard sell.

out of five

Re-call the mid­wives: One of PBS’s most pop­u­lar im­ports from last year makes its over­due re­turn this week­end when Call the Mid­wife rolls out its sec­ond sea­son with an ex­tended eight-episode run (Sun­day at 8 p.m. on PPTV).

The young nurses of Non­na­tus House are a year older and more ex­pe­ri­enced, but the chal­lenges of mid­wifery in Lon­don’s hard­scrab­ble East End are more daunt­ing than ever.

In a very com­pelling sea­son opener, Jenny Lee (Jes­sica Raine) risks the wrath of the nuns by help­ing out an old friend named Jimmy, while Trixie heads into un­charted wa­ters — lit­er­ally — when she’s called to deal with a risky birth aboard a vis­it­ing Swedish trawler.

Equal parts charm­ing and gutwrench­ingly dra­matic, Call the Mid­wife re­mains one of TV’s real scripted-drama trea­sures. Put it on your must-see list.

Game time: It’s hard to imag­ine Game of Thrones re­turn­ing with big­ger stakes and greater am­bi­tions, but then again, this is a se­ries born of most mag­nif­i­cent imag­i­na­tion, so why not aim high?

The ac­claimed HBO fan­tasy drama, based on nov­els by Ge­orge R. R. Martin, opens its third sea­son on Sun­day (HBO Canada, pre­ceded by a re­peat of last sea­son’s fi­nale, check list­ings for times) with much more of the trade­mark sword­play, skull­dug­gery, sex, magic, myth­i­cal-crea­ture menagerie and madly am­bi­tious king­dom-build­ing that made it a hit with genre-ob­sessed fans dur­ing its first two sea­sons.

It’s hard to en­cap­su­late the com­plex tan­gle of sto­ry­lines in a few para­graphs, so new­com­ers to the se­ries face a daunt­ing task get­ting up to speed. The feud be­tween sib­lings Tyrion and Cer­sei Lan­nis­ter (Peter Din­klage, Lena Headey) is one of the drama’s cen­tre­pieces, and it’s about to get ugly.

Among the no­table new­com­ers to the se­ries are Ciarán Hinds ( Rome) as north­ern war­lord Mance Raynor and Brit act­ing le­gend Diana Rigg ( The Avengers) as Lady Olenna Tyrell, grand­mother to Mar­gaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer).

There are many more new characters to meet, and an end­less num­ber of sto­ry­line pos­si­bil­i­ties to be con­sid­ered as this beau­ti­fully crafted and metic­u­lously de­tailed saga re­sumes. But for fans of the epic-fan­tasy genre, TV doesn’t get any bet­ter than this.

ITV STU­DIOS / MAS­TER­PIECE

From left: Zoe Tap­per, Frances O’Connor Jeremy Piven, Gre­gory Fi­toussi and Kather­ine Kelly star in Mr. Sel­fridge; be­low, Peter Din­klage as Tyrion Lan­nis­ter

in Game of Thrones.

HBO

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