Tag Archives: PBS

Vicious fun with McKellen and Jacobi on PBS

Ian McKellen and Derek Jaobi

Sirs Ian McKerlen and Derek Jacobi star as devoted but bickering partners of nearly 50 years in the new Britcom ‘Vicious,’ premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates.


Two knights of the British theater, Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, cut loose as a bickering elderly gay couple in Vicious, a new half-hour Britcom premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates (check local listings).
Created by an American, former Will & Grace executive producer Greg Janetti, the farcical comedy (which originally had the working title Vicious Old Queens) follows fading actor Freddie Thornhill (McKellen) and his partner of 48 years, Stuart Bixby (Jacobi), who share an overstuffed, overdecorated two-level London flat with their 20-year-old dog, Balthazar. The series opens on the day of a funeral for Clive St. Clair, who worshipfully adored Freddie from afar and carried a lifelong torch for him – at least, according to Freddie. Joining Freddie and Stuart for the wake is their best friend of several decades, Violet Crosby (Frances de la Tour, The History Boys), but all three of them immediately become distracted by the arrival of a new neighbor in the apartment building: Ash Weston (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones), a very handsome working-class lad of indeterminate amorous inclinations.
When Stuart ponders whether Ash is gay or straight, Freddie immediately promises to solve the mystery.
“After all, I did spend a year playing the detective in The Mousetrap,” he tells Stuart, referencing the venerable Agatha Christie play that has been running continuously in London since 1952.
“Oh, please,” Stuart snaps back. “Our POSTMAN has been in The Mousetrap.
Although it is set in the present, in general tone and broad performance style Vicious is a throwback to such vintage Britcoms of the ‘70s as Are You Being Served? In fact, one episode features Stuart earning some extra cash by working in the men’s section of a department store, and I half expected Mr. Humphries to pop into the scene with his characteristic “I’m free!”
Yet while Mr. Humphries’ off-camera personal life was a matter of sniggering speculation in that bygone sitcom, the loving yet fractious relationship between Stuart and Freddie is very much at the heart of Vicious. These two cranky old gents may get on each other’s nerves, but they also share a long history that stretches back to a time when things were not at all easy for men like themselves.
“The point of those old-fashioned sitcoms was that to be gay was, in itself, funny and that you laughed at the characters rather than with them,” says McKellen, who, like Jacobi, is gay in real life as well. “This is not true of (Vicious), and I don’t think Derek and I would have wanted to be involved in this script if it were old-fashioned in that sense. We don’t get laughs as Freddie and Stuart because we are gay, but because we are the people we are. … It’s just two real men surviving with all the problems that many, many people have.”
Filmed before a live studio audience, Vicious just wants to make you laugh, and it’s a treat to watch these two stage titans setting aside any traces of dignity to achieve that end. McKellen in particular is absolutely hilarious. Watch for an episode in which Freddie auditions to play a character who has a single line on Downton Abbey. He has just barely received the thrilling news that he got the job when Ash turns up at the door to announce that, despite his complete lack of experience, he has just been hired for a part in an independent film.
Watching McKellen react to that news is a master class in comedy acting, as Freddie, completely numb, at first thinks he must have misheard, then struggles in vain to process this impossible development and finally chokes back the bitter jealousy he is feeling. The actor does all of this wordlessly, too. It’s an absolutely brilliant moment.
Vicious was an runaway smash when it ran in the UK, where it already has been picked up for a second season. Meanwhile, don’t miss this chance for the next few weeks to watch McKellen and Jacobi as you’ve never seen them before.
'Vicious' on PBS

Frances de la Tour and Iwan Rheon (back row) co-star in ‘Vicious’ with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi on PBS

Tennant plays a courtroom Houdini in Escape Artist

'Masterpiece Mystery!' returns Sunday on PBS.

From left),acquitted murder suspect Liam Foyle (Tony Kebbell) thanks his defense team (Roy Marsden and David Tennant) in ‘The Escape Artist,’ a taut, two-part thriller premiering Sunday on PBS’ ‘Masterpiece Mystery!’


Masterpiece Mystery! gets its summer season off to a white-knuckle start Sunday night with The Escape Artist, a two-part thriller (concluding on June 22) about a brilliant defense attorney whose life and career go off the rails. David Tennant (Broadchurch) stars as Will Burton, the top criminal lawyer in the UK, whose perfect record of courtroom wins has put him on the fast track to ‘’take the silk” as Queen’s Counsel. He even has a perfect family – vivacious wife Kate (Ashley Jensen, Ugly Betty) and young son Jamie (Gus Barry) — to round out the idyllic portrait.
Will’s cases often find him sparring with legal adversary Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), who is fed up with always coming in second to Will. What seems to be lost on both of them is that their cerebral legal games in the courtroom usually take a heavy toll on the victims, defendants and their loved ones.
Invariably, Will often winds up defending and getting off some characters who most likely should be behind bars (hence his nickname of “the escape artist”), but as he somewhat idealistically explains to anyone who questions him, “Everyone deserves a defense.”
Then, just as Will and his family are heading out of town to their vacation getaway, his bosses hand him the case file on Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell), a reclusive bird lover who stands accused of the horrific torture-killing of a young female medical student. Liam is a self-confessed misanthrope, but he adamantly insists that he is innocent. As Will, on vacation, studies the file, he can’t help seeing that there’s a ton of compelling circumstantial evidence against Liam, such as how his credit card statements reflect that he was a frequent user of “extreme porn” websites featuring the kind of activity that figured in the gruesome and extended killing of the victim.
Once in court, however, Will grows convinced that Liam is being rushed to judgment, especially after the judge refuses to grant a continuance to allow Will’s DNA expert to complete his research. Based partly on that, Will is able to get the judge, in effect, to declare a mistrial on the basis of procedural error. Chalk up another win in Will’s column.
And then Will makes a tiny error in judgment, a small yet crucial misstep that sets into motion a series of tragic, violent events. Even worse, he finds himself compromised by the very trial strategies that once stood him in good stead.
That’s all I’ll reveal about this edge-of-your-seat suspense drama, which has a very satisfying quota of twists and even shocks. Tennant is sensationally good in a role that forces him to play things straight, with none of his trademark Doctor Who twinkle. Okenodo, who picked up a Tony Award just last Sunday night for her performance in the current Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, is also good in a role that could read as a one-dimensional villainess with a different actress.
Among the other recognizable faces in the large ensemble of The Escape Artist are veteran Masterpiece character actor Roy Marsden as another member of Foyle’s defense team and Kate Dickie (Sansa Stark’s mad aunt Lysa in Game of Thrones) as a Scottish barrister trying to offer Will some urgently needed legal advice in next week’s conclusion.
It’s easy to see why The Escape Artist earned rave reviews when it aired recently in the UK, and the two 90-minute episodes should whet viewers’ appetites for more mysteries to follow under the Masterpiece Mystery! banner.
David Tennant and Ashley Jensen star in 'Masterpiece Mystery!' Sunday on PBS.

Brilliant defense attorney Will Burton (David Tennant) watches helplessly as his happy marriage to wife Kate (Ashley Jensen, ‘Ugly Betty’) is destroyed in Part One of ‘The Escape Artist,’ premiering Sunday on the PBS series ‘Masterpiece Mystery!’

A new Sleeping Beauty in the manner Bourne

Hannah Vassallo and Dominic North star as Princess Aurora and her selfless lover, Leo, in 'Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty.'

Aurora (Hannah Vassallo) is awakened from her long sleep by Leo (Dominic North), who has given up his mortality to be with her, in ‘Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty,’ a ‘Great Performances’ presentation premiering tonight on many PBS affiliates.


The genius hailed by The New Yorker as “the most popular choreographer of theatrical dance in the Western World” wakes up a ballet classic in Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty, a Great Performances presentation airing tonight on many PBS affiliates (be sure to check listings in your area).
Bourne explains during the two brief but illuminating interview segments that bookend this Sleeping Beauty that his family didn’t listen to much classical music when he was growing up. As in his earlier productions of the two other Tchaikovsky dance masterworks – The Nutcracker, which Bourne set in a grim Dickensian orphanage, and Swan Lake, which featured an all-male corps de ballet of swans – Bourne’s principal focus is on telling a story that is dramatically arresting while still satisfying fans of the piece in its traditional form.
When he sized up the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, which dates from the 14th century, Bourne immediately noticed that, in terms of its love story, the yarn was a resounding flop.
“This prince kisses her and wakes her up, she looks at him, and next thing you know, they’re getting married, someone she’s never even met,” Bourne says. “You don’t really feel anything at all.”
Instead of using the traditional fairy-tale period setting, Bourne opens his production of Sleeping Beauty in London’s Victorian era, circa 1890 (the year of the ballet’s premiere). In the first act, we encounter the rambunctious baby Princess Aurora in the form of an intricately designed marionette that causes the palace staff endless headaches. In the next act, when we meet the 21-year-old Aurora (Hannah Vassallo), she’s a spirited, almost tomboyish young woman who has flouted convention and fallen in love with Leo (Dominic North), the royal gardener. Obviously, that enhances the love-story element in the ballet, but it presented Bourne with another conundrum: If Aurora has to sleep for 100 years, what happens to poor Leo?
“Aurora has fallen in love with someone who then has the problem of trying to stay alive for her when she wakes up,” Bourne says of his and Leo’s dilemma.
Happily, as it turns out, the production’s setting roughly coincided with London’s obsession with Gothic literature (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for example, was written in 1897), and Bourne found his audacious solution while watching HBO’s True Blood. Instead of pretty ladies in pastel tutus, the good fairies of Sleeping Beauty would be a family of benign vampires in elegant yet slightly moldering garments, led by the powerful Count Lilac (Christopher Marney). That concept also gave Leo a poignant way to demonstrate his love for Aurora, by surrendering his very mortality in order to stay by her side.
Like all of his other productions, Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is jam-packed with fantastic stage images, such as the stormy entrance of the dark fairy Carabosse (Adam Maskell) and her minions, who look like one of the Furies crossed with a satyr. When she pronounces her curse on the baby Aurora, her dark prophecy is mimed by an Aurora double with a blank, mannequin-like face. It’s chillingly effective, as is the moment in the second act when Carabosse’s vengeful son, Caradoc (Maskell again), activates the curse not with the tainted spindle of a spinning wheel, but via a thorn on a black rose that was his late mother’s favored calling card.
In traditional productions of Sleeping Beauty, once the prince has awakened his sleeping beauty, the story effectively is over, apart from another half hour or so of celebratory dances at the royal wedding. Bourne, however, interjects yet another plot twist that sends the narrative in a totally unexpected direction and keeps the suspense going almost until the very end of the ballet.
A press release from Great Performances describes Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty as “a gothic fairy tale for all ages,” and that’s largely true. Bourne’s earlier productions of, say, The Car Man (adapted from Bizet’s opera Carmen) and Swan Lake may have raised some eyebrows with their unmistakable currents of homoeroticism, but there’s nothing in this Sleeping Beauty to frighten the horses or, more pertinently, parents of youngsters. Very small fry who know and love the traditional Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, however, probably will be very confused by many of Bourne’s somewhat eccentric narrative changes.
There’s no denying, though, that Bourne has given one of Tchaikovsky’s most popular ballets a welcome dose of creative caffeine. I won’t point out all the ingenious little character touches this master choreographer comes up with, but I have to mention a moment that occurs early in Act Three, set in contemporary (2011) London. The massive, locked iron gates surrounding Aurora’s palace have become a tourist destination, and as guidebook-toting visitors take selfies for their Instagram pages, a young woman tenderly sticks a commemorative rose into the metal bars. As she does so, she pricks her finger and fairly swoons, overcome by the cosmic romantic significance of the accident. It’s a tiny moment that’s both funny and touching.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in Matthew Bourne’s head, which apparently is the scene of constant and boundless creativity. I’m just glad that every now and then I get to visit there.
Count Lilac and Caradoc

Count Lilac (Christopher Marney, left) tries to vanquish the evil Caradoc (Adam Maskell) at the climax of ‘Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty.’

Fierce Green Fire a valentine to Planet Earth

Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson

Greenpeace co-founder Paul Watson cradles a harp seal pup to protect it from Canadian sealers in a shot from “American Masters: A Fierce Green Fire,” airing tonight on many PBS affiliates.


In a powerful scene from A Fierce Green Fire, a powerful Earth Day special from American Masters that is airing tonight on most PBS affiliates, environmental demonstrators march through the streets carrying placards bearing a stark message: “There is no Planet B.”
That neatly sums up the point of view in Mark Kitchell’s critically acclaimed one-hour documentary, which looks back on 50 years of environmental activism on both a grassroots and global scale. If anything, the subject begs for a more expanded treatment, but the film does a splendid job of maintaining its breakneck pace while moving smoothly from one topic to another.
A Fierce Green Fire takes its title from a line in A Sand Country Alamanac, a 1949 documentary from a pioneering ecologist and former forest ranger who writes of finding a wolf he had shot: “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.”
I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself from that devastating image, but Kitchell’s documentary uses the phrase in a positive context, referring to the vital ecosystems that — at least for now — are struggling to keep Earth healthy and vital. In fact, this special suggests, many people probably got their first reality check in the late 1960s and early ’70s when they began to see photos of a shining blue Earth, wrapped in sweeping clouds, as taken from the surface of the planet’s bleak and arid moon.
A Fierce Green Fire is divided into five “acts,” each with a different narrator. The first, narrated by Robert Redford, focuses on the conservation movement of the 1960s, which saw the Sierra Club and its charismatic executive director, David Brower, waging a strenuous yet ultimately successful attack to halt the construction of dams in the Grand Canyon. The most depressing part of this segment is the reminder that, if you think the deplorable trend of putting non eco-friendly candidates into environmental political posts is a new thing, think again. It’s been that way for years.
The special then moves into the 1970s, as Ashley Judd narrates a look at growing public awareness of pollution. That topic reached a flashpoint in the latter part of the decade with the Love Canal debacle in upstate New York. This segment, which I found the most riveting in the film, throws the spotlight on Lois Gibbs, a mad-as-hell housewife and mother in the community who refused to be blown off by politicians and galvanized her neighbors into taking action against the toxic industrial waste that was causing sickness and skyrocketing birth defects among their families.
Environmental advocate Van Jones narrates act three, which looks at emerging “alternative” ecology groups such as Greenpeace and the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, then Chilean novelist Isabel Allende presents an homage to martyred activist Chico Mendes, who gave his life to protect the Amazon rain forest.
Meryl Streep takes over as narrator for the final act of A Fierce Green Fire, a power punch devoted to climate change. There’s not a lot in this segment that will come as a revelation to most viewers, although it’s depressing to realize yet again how deeply commercial interests are controlling and gutting any attempts at meaningful legislation in Washington, D.C.
As the recently deceased climate scientist Stephen Schneider remarks in an archival interview, it’s “a hell of a way to run a planet.”
As always with PBS programming, check your local listings to confirm air date and time in your area.
Love Canal housewife Lois Gibbs

Lois Gibbs, an infuriated housewife with sick children, is among the formidable activists spotlighted in “A Fierce Green Fire,” airing tonight on PBS

My Bionic Pet makes for awww-some viewing

Chris P. Bacon

A Florida piglet born with deformed back legs is able to speed happily around his yard thanks to a prosthetic “wheelchair” in ‘My Bionic Pet,’ premiering tonight on PBS’ ‘Nature.’


Gather the whole family tonight for My Bionic Pet, a heartwarming and inspiring Nature episode on PBS that looks at how technological innovations – and human compassion – are giving disabled animals a new lease on life and happiness.
Granted, the cost of making and then surgically attaching prosthetic limbs to disabled animals can be considerable, but as this program shows, many kind souls, sometimes with fundraising assistance, have volunteered to adopt and care for these pets, who otherwise would be euthanized. Los Angeles friends Kathy Wyer and Elodie Lorenz, for example, decided to co-foster Roofus, a beautiful golden retriever who was found abandoned in a field as a puppy, blind and with deformed front legs. Thanks to a set of flexible metallic prosthetics, Roofus today is able to frolic freely around the yard with his canine playmates.
In some cases, the disabilities don’t even require expensive, high-tech solutions. Someone brought in a small piglet with deformed, functionally useless back legs to the Florida veterinary clinic of Dr. Len Lucero to have the little critter euthanized, but Lucero, immediately smitten, asked instead to adopt the animal himself. Using pieces from his son’s old toys, Lucero fashioned a tiny “wheelchair” that could be strapped to the piglet’s hindquarters. As My Bionic Pet delightfully shows, the little pig – whom Lucero somewhat questionably christened Chris P. Bacon – quickly adjusted to his “hind wheels” and today tears happily around his yard at a fearsome clip.
Molly the Pony

In New Orleans, a therapy pony with a prosthetic front leg consoles and inspires children who are struggling with disabilities of their own.


In New Orleans, Kaye Harris was impressed by the indomitable spirit of a little pony named Molly, who survived Hurricane Katrina only to lose the lower part of one of her legs to a vicious dog attack. Traditionally, a horse who has been hobbled by a serious injury to his hoof or leg is automatically put down, but instead Dwayne Mara of nearby Metairie, La., fashioned a simple prosthetic extension for the injured leg. If you visit the Crescent City, you may well catch a glimpse of Molly, who enjoys a full and active life as a therapy animal, often mingling with and cheering up small kids who are struggling to adjust to their own disabilities.
These days, nearly 1,000 animals a year are fitted with some form of prosthetic device, which often in turn leads to discoveries that are beneficial to human beings. Among other things, this growing practice reflects a shift in public attitude away from thinking of pets as objects rather than sensitive living creatures, especially as researchers continue to understand more and more about how complex an emotional range many of these animals experience. Subsequently, many animal lovers have begun to think of themselves as their pet’s guardian or companion, not owner.
“I think if we can save an animal and make that animal have a higher quality of life by giving them a prosthetic limb, then we are obligated to do it,” says Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “It sends the message that animals are not just there for our own entertainment and amusement.
“These animals aren’t things or property, like couches. They are sentient beings who have a right to a full and rich life.”
As always remember to check your local listings to see when My Bionic Pet airs on your local PBS affiliate.
"My Bionic Pet" on "Nature."

Los Angeles resident Kathy Wyer is the co-foster guardian of Roofus, a blind but cheerful golden retriever who enjoys free, high-energy mobility thanks to his metallic front leg extensions.

PBS’ glorious Dave Clark Five special is a must-see

The Dave Clark Five

Lead vocalist/keyboardist Mike Smith, guitarist Lenny Davidson, drummer Dave Clark, bassist Rick Huxley and saxophonist Denis Payton (from left) made up The Dave Clark Five during the band’s ’60s heyday.


The Dave Clark Five and Beyond – Glad All Over, a lively and music-packed two-hour Great Performances special premiering tonight on PBS, reminds us that three, not two, truly great British bands came out of the vibrant ’60s music scene.
Everyone remembers The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, of course, but a generation or two of American music lovers may not remember The Dave Clark Five, a group that had a phenomenal international run from 1964 to 1970 and powerfully influenced some of today’s leading musical artists, including Bruce Springsteen.
During their heyday, the band actually rivaled The Beatles in terms of both popularity and professional credibility, as fans debated the merits of the former’s so-called “Tottenham Sound” vs. the latter band’s well-known “Mersey Beat.” The Dave Clark Five may have been more clean-cut and conventionally handsome – especially drummer Clark and his frontman vocalist, Mike Smith – but as Springsteen and others note during the special, there was a power and a raw edge to their performances that neither of the other two superbands could match.
“It was just a much bigger sound than either the Stones or The Beatles,” Springsteen says.
Clark originally formed the group, comprised of gym buddies from the Tottenham community in North London, just as a fun way to earn some pocket money. The band quickly gained a following during their appearances at a London club, and shot to superstardom in 1964 after an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Although The Beatles had appeared on Sullivan’s show a few weeks earlier, The Dave Clark Five eventually would rack up a record-breaking 18 appearances on that hit variety series, and they embarked on a major U.S. tour in May 1964, before either The Beatles or the Stones, packing huge arenas everywhere they went. Their celebrity fans included Lucille Ball (who filmed a TV special with them), Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
When they weren’t touring, the band was in the studio, cranking out a series of best-selling albums and hit singles such as “Glad All Over,” “Because,” “I Like It Like That,” “Catch Us If You Can” and “Over and Over.” For a time The Dave Clark Five was even more successful in the U.S. than in their native Britain, until the group, exhausted, decided to suspend touring in 1967 and work exclusively from the U.K. After selling 100 million records, The Dave Clark Five disbanded in 1970.
The PBS special includes extensive performance footage from The Dave Clark Five’s appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, much of it not seen in decades, as well as home movies by members of the group. There are also newly filmed interviews with Paul McCartney, Elton John, Steven Van Zandt, Gene Simmons, Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick, as well as fans Whoopi Goldberg and Sir Ian McKellen, among others.
A major highlight, however, is extensive footage from Tom Hank’s eloquent and ardent tribute to the band when they belatedly were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. By then, two of its members, the charismatic Smith and saxophonist Denis Payton, had died, but bass player Rick Huxley and guitarist Lenny Davidson joined Clark on stage to accept the prestigious honor before a cheering crowd.
Clark himself wrote, produced and directed The Dave Clark Five and Beyond – Glad All Over, which amounts to a nostalgic valentine to the four bandmates he clearly cherished, as well as reminding us of the great music this band produced. If you lived through their glory days, as I did, this special is an unforgettable time capsule. If you don’t remember The Dave Clark Five, it will be a revelation.
As always, be sure to check your local TV listings to confirm when this special is airing in your local market.
Tom Hanks and Dave Clark

Tonight’s special includes extensive footage from fan and friend Tom Hanks’ (left) eloquent tribute to The Dave Clark Five during the band’s 2008 installation into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Mr. Selfridge reopens for a second season on PBS

'Mr. Selfridge' on PBS.

Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven, center) thanks his staff on his store’s fifth anniversary in tonight’s two-hour ‘Masterpiece’ premiere of ‘Mr. Selfridge’ on PBS.


Mr. Selfridge, the glossy and gloriously addictive Masterpiece soap opera somewhat freely adapted from historical events, ended Season One (now available for free streaming for Amazon Prime subscribers) with Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) at a low point both personally and professionally. Window designer Henri LeClair (Gregory Fitoussi), whose displays had played an invaluable part in giving Selfridge’s department store a striking public image, had turned in his notice to accept a high-profile job in New York, a decision Harry perceived as a personal betrayal.
Far worse, his long-suffering wife, Rose (Frances O’Connor), decided to leave London and take their children back to America after she reluctantly agreed to accompany her husband to the opening of a new play that starred his most recent mistress, only to discover the piece was a savage satire attacking the private lives of her family.
Season Two, which premieres tonight on PBS with a two-hour episode, picks things up five years later, in the spring of 2014, as the Selfridge’s staff prepares to celebrate the store’s fifth anniversary. Rose, good as her word, has kept the kids stateside during the interval, but she returns to London to perform her wifely duties – specifically and pointedly limited to performing her Mrs. Selfridge role at public events. Beyond that, she makes clear, she is not remotely interesting in resuming a relationship with Harry after his years of compulsive infidelity.
Joining his parents in London is Selfridge scion Gordon (Greg Austin), now 15, who announces his intentions to quit school in favor of starting his training to run a store he eventually will inherit. Rose protests, but Harry approves. Unfortunately for Gordon, he soon discovers that being the boss’s son, especially at a time when rumors of war are stirring up labor unrest, can be a mixed blessing at best.
Greg Austin joins the cast of the 'Masterpiece' series 'Mr Selfridge' this season.

Greg Austin takes over the role of son Gordon Selfridge, now 15, in tonight’s Season Two premiere of ‘Mr. Selfridge’ on ‘Masterpiece.’


The gala anniversary prompts the return of others as well, including Harry’s protégée Agnes Towler (Aisling Loftus), back from an intensive two-year design program in Paris and ready to assume her new duties as head of display for the entire store. She immediately clashes, however, with Selfridge’s officious new head of fashion, Mr. Thackeray (Cal Macaninch), who promptly starts engineering a stealth campaign to ensure Agnes’ failure.
Elsewhere, Harry’s high-maintenance yet loyal friend and benefactor Lady Mae (Katherine Kelly) faces an unpleasant obstacle when her errant and usually absent husband, Lord Loxley (Aidan McArdle), unexpectedly returns, bankrupt from gambling and seeking to replenish his fortune by fair means or foul – mostly the latter, which include blackmail and war profiteering.
On a far more pleasant note, those of us who watched sadly last season as Miss Mardle (the glorious Amanda Abbington, Sherlock) was jilted by her selfish lover, Mr. Grove (Tom Goodman-Hill), can revel in some major karmic blowback this season, as fate smiles brightly on the former and nearly crushes the latter.
Also joining the cast this season is the delightful Polly Walker (HBO’s Rome) as Rose’s new close friend Delphine Day, whose bohemian sensibilities – along with a spicy autobiography and sexy new nightclub – only sharpen Rose’s resolve to be her own woman, free of submission to Harry’s humiliations.
Piven, who is also a producer on the series, is somewhat ideally cast as the intense, brash title character, and he pulls off the character’s more vulnerable moments – which felt false too often in Season One – more successfully in the new episodes (to paraphrase a very old joke, apparently this actor finally has mastered the art of faking sincerity). The only jarring note is the new character of Lord Loxley, a one-dimensional pipsqueak of a villain portrayed by McArdle in a laughably over-the-top performance.
As in Season One, the lavish physical production, with what appears to be slavish attention to period details, is beyond reproach, fully on the same impressive level as Masterpiece’s uber-smash, Downton Abbey. Mr. Selfridge may not be high art, but it is gourmet popcorn of the highest level.
Polly Walker (center) joins the cast of 'Mr. Selfridge' for  Season Two.

Rose Selfridge (Frances O’Connor, left) congratulates her new friend Delphine Day (Polly Walker, center) on the publication of her racy new autobiography in tonight’s ‘Maseterpiece’ season premiere of ‘Mr. Selfridge.’