Well, let's start with the weirdest thing about one of the best new period dramas on British television: it stars Jeremy Piven. The American actor is probably best known, of course, for his role as the abrasive Hollywood agent Ari Gold on Entourage. But now he's put on a waistcoat and a pocket-watch to travel back in time a hundred years. On Mr. Selfridge he plays an American tycoon who comes to England in the very early 1900s to open a brand new department store. The result is a television drama that explores many of the same themes Downton Abbey does: the upheaval of those times, the clash between Victorian and Edwardian values, the difference between British and American attitudes, first-wave feminism, and the softening of the English class system. Except, instead of being set in the middle of the English countryside, we find ourselves in thick of the urban bustle of London. The high end department store turns out to be a perfect place to watch the world change: new attitudes in everything from beauty products to business to a woman's role in the workplace are played out on the store floor.Mr. Selfridge is damned entertaining, too. It shares many of the same qualities that make Downton so popular: the drop dead gorgeous sets and costumes, the sex and scandal, the immensely likeable characters, the intelligence behind all the melodrama. Plus, it has an artistic flair and entrepreneurial spirit that make it easy to root for the new department store — it feels like rooting for an underdog despite Mr. Selfridge's immense wealth and his personal failings. In-store appearances by some of the biggest names of the age — from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Sir Ernest Shackleton — mean there's plenty for history nerds to drool over, too.
Mr. Selfridge premiered with eight episodes on ITV in 2013. The second season debuted last Sunday.