Ooh, there's a wedding. And fabulous hats. And I do mean fabulous, my dears. I haven't seen such hats since … I don't know, maybe Downton Abbey. No, wait, there are two weddings. The second one is less grand, but the hats are still tops.
I'm talking Mr. Selfridge (Sunday, PBS, 9 p.m. on Masterpiece Classic), which starts its third season. It's popular, you see. The series was inspired by the book Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge and was turned into a period-piece drama by veteran Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House). American Jeremy Piven plays Selfridge.
If you don't know it, it's all about the real-life Harry Gordon Selfridge, a Chicago chap who made Marshall Field's into a retail phenomenon and then went to London to revolutionize the way the English go shopping. That meant salesmanship with sass, lots of publicity and some jiggery-pokery on the financial front, to launch the iconic department store Selfridges in 1909. There was also some jiggery-pokery on other fronts, especially with the ladies. Or as PBS describes the main character, he "combined guile, taste, boldness, the poise of a swindler and the seductive charm of a Casanova."
Now me, I don't get it. I get Downton. It's absurd tosh. Occasionally high-grade silliness wrapped up in an increasingly battered variation on Upstairs, Downstairs. The appeal of Mr. Selfridge escapes me. I have no problem with silliness. But this series is sprawling, vaguely defined and utterly bland. The costumes are nice. Sometimes they're quite stunning. But there's nothing going on. I have come to believe there's an audience that's hungry for British period-piece drama and will watch anything at all, in that genre, as long as it has toffs, servants and people talking in a ridiculous manner.
By 1918, when this third series opens, the First World War is over and, you know, England is changing! Our hero Harry's loved but sometimes neglected wife has died. Mr. Selfridge's daughter Rosalie marries one Serge De Bolotoff, a Russian chap and son of Princess Marie (Zoë Wanamaker). He's an aviator who wants to fly planes and build airports and stuff. Harry Selfridge agrees with him that travel by plane is the coming thing. But he's not sure that this Russian chap has his wits about him. At the store, there are problems in the loading bay because men returning from the war resent the women who have replaced them in their jobs.
To say that not much happens would be overstating it. Jeremy Piven goes at it with relish, but there isn't much he can sink his teeth into. Wanamaker is fabulous as the dotty Russian royalty, but many British actors could do this stuff in their sleep. In fact at times it feels some people involved are doing it in their sleep. There's a moment when Harry's daughter, speaking of her new husband, tells dad, "I love him, Pa. And you know why? Because he reminds me of you. You're the best father in the world." We are in Hallmark territory.
Listen, I am flagging it because it's popular and a new season starts, but Mr. Selfridge makes Downton Abbey look like a work by Kafka. It is just so empty-headed. If that's your bag, though, enjoy.
Also airing this weekend
The Walking Dead (Sunday, AMC, 9 p.m.) reaches its season finale. This is the major event of the weekend. For people not charmed by super-dramatic events at the Selfridge store, that is. Here's the summary: "Daryl finds trouble while on a run; Rick and the group feel like outsiders in Alexandria, where trouble approaches the gates." That hardly does it justice. Recent episodes set in the seemingly benign, safe community of Alexandria have been more troubling and ominous than episodes set out there in the zombie-filled world. That's a testament to the show's dramatic power. From the moment the group found sanctuary, we knew it would end in blood and tears. The finale is 90 minutes long.
What you will not see in Canada this weekend is the HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. It airs on HBO in the United States on Sunday and is generating a lot of notice. Here is HBO Canada's explanation: "Some HBO documentaries are not part of our HBO agreement, so the rights need to be negotiated with other distributors from time to time. Canadian broadcast details for Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief are still not finalized, but we can confirm it will not air on HBO Canada day-and-date with HBO in the U.S. on Sunday, March 29."
All times ET. Check local listings.