Mr. Selfridge, Season 2, Episode 3

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In the third episode of Mr. Selfridge’s second season, Delphine Day (Polly Walker)organizes a card game with some of the influential movers and shakers she knows including Harry and Lord Loxley. It’s wonderful to see the smug Loxley lose to Harry.

People are coming to terms with the war. Agnes receives a letter from her brother George and though it’s been redacted he seems chipper. Miss Mardle takes in a Belgian refugee. She expects Florian to be a woman’s name, but it turns out that her refugee is a young man, a rather innocent and attractive Belgian. If he brings any chocolate into the house, she’ll be putty in his hands. This mix up is rather weak. Of course, Miss Mardle could arrange to have a woman live with her and someone else could take in Mr. Florian.

I’m worried about Henri who’s very mysterious this episode. His secret life remains so, to a larger extent. He’s giving lots of money to a suspicious looking man, who’s supposed to track a woman down for him. Since he’s gotten on Mr. Thackery’s bad side, Thackery follows him around town looking for dirt. Henri had best watch out. My guess is that while the problem may not be innocent it’s not as bad as it seems. Thackery expects that Henri is a German spy. Poppycock, Thackery. Poppycock.

Things are looking up for Lady Loxley as her husband’s finances are going up since he’s getting kick backs for army procurement deals. She’s been authorized to get a new wardrobe. It’s a pity that Mr. Thackery just couldn’t pick up on the newer trends. All he could show her seemed dated, though I thought the gowns were stunning, just not right for wartime.

Rose was used nicely in this episode. She saved the day as the store must employ women in the warehouse. Their garments made work nearly impossible. No one at the store really knew what to do, but Rose stepped in and figured it all out. Later when Mr. Crab organized shooting practice for store employees, Rose impressed her son Gordon with her expertise. I love seeing these new facets of hers and I’m glad to see she and Harry’s marriage is improving. Yet I do fear Daphne is up to something with Harry. She was needlessly secretive about the card game when she saw Rose.

All in all, the season’s shaping up nicely. The new characters are intriguing, though troublesome and having the mother and girls away makes the cast size more manageable for the writer. I don’t miss Miss Love at all or Harry’s philandering. While that will no doubt return, I’m glad the show isn’t all about infidelity and illicit romance. The show had a sleazier streak last season, which I’m not missing.

Mr. Selfridge, Season 2

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Mr. Selfridge’s second season kicked off a couple weeks ago. The first episode picks up as Selfridge’s is about to celebrate its firth anniversary. Time’s flown by and it shows for some and not for others, which is odd. I was glad to see my favorite characters/actors, but the first episode was strange because the story pretty much wipes aside, or minimizes the problems Harry faced at the end of season 1 when his wife, fed up with his philandering and the public ridicule of a satirical play about Harry, left as did his best friend and most talented colleague, Henri LeClere. As if that weren’t enough, Harry’s reporter pal childishly turned on him, because he wasn’t available mmm.

I found it implausible that Harry wasn’t more affected by isolation. He’s a gregarious man who needs his social network to make him who he is. Without that energy, Harry’s nothing. He’d have hit rock bottom and then had to find new friends as well as new loves. He did find new women to replace his lover Eva Love, but Henri and Frank’s friendships were left void. I didn’t buy that that wouldn’t have left a big hole or that Selfridge would have tried to fill it. I also found it odd that Rose, Gordon and Frank all reappear at the same time. Yes, it’s the anniversary, but someone would have reconnected earlier and others might never have.

It’s just weird that in pre-WWI era Agnes, Kitty and Vincent are still single. One of them would have married. It’s odd that we don’t really know why Henri hit the skids. If J. Walter Thompson, New York didn’t work out, why not return to Chicago’s Marshall Fields, Macy’s or Paris? Why would he wind up in squalor? It’s not like he’s a gambler or drinker. I’m also surprised that Miss Mardle has chosen to stay on at Selfridge’s and work with her lover Mr. Grove as his new, young wife has baby after baby. Only a glutton for punishment would. Since she took a risk on Selfridge’s store, you’d think she’d have the pluck to get a new job.

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The second episode, where Henri seems to return for good, had a better storyline. I’m glad that Miss Mardle has come into money. We’ve got some new villians this year. Poor Lady Mae is married to a wife beater, who’s destitute. He’s cut off her funds since he has no money. It’s good to see Harry defend Lady Mae and all women against this abusive blackguard.

Rose is back and has taken up with a new friend, Miss P whom she met on the ship back to London. Rose needs a few more friends in London, but it’s just too convenient for the writers to make this one the owner of a risqué bar. Mr. Selfridge always tries to titillate in an anachronistic, implausible way.

Agnes’s character and storyline draw me it. I’m happy to see her back from Paris where she apprenticed at Galleries LaFayette. As the new head of display she’s got her hands full, particularly since the new head of fashion took an immediate dislike to her and is doing his best to sabotage her. Thank God, Harry knew that Henri would consider coming back if it were to help this damsel in distress, (whom he loved and left). Though I like Victor, I prefer to see Agnes with Henri. Most characters don’t get two fine young men to choose from. It’s an embarrassment of riches, in a way.

Mr. Selfridge

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That sign is the spitting image of Marshall Field’s sign

I never saw Mr. Selfridge last year. I’d left the US and just didn’t get hooked. Friends thought it wasn’t up to Downton Abbey and no one I knew followed it. From the promos the show seemed more brash, than Downton so I wasn’t drawn to it.

However last year I loved The Paradise, a period drama covering the same exciting era of the development of department stores, which affected women’s rights and freedoms. Shopping was revolutionized (a mixed blessing) as now it wasn’t just a task, but a creative, imaginative endeavor. With a lull in programming for the Anglophile who likes history, I gave Mr. Selfridge a try.

At first I really didn’t like it. Though he was inventive and a caring employer, Harry Gordon Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) is a womanizer, drinker and a bull in a china shop. Though he’s married to a beautiful, smart woman who is portrayed as having no problems in the bedroom, he prefers to frequent girly shows and pursue Eva Love, a burlesque singer. Granted this girly show is PG by our standards, it wasn’t then and it’s hard to get drawn into a show about a pig, after watching Downton Abbey where high standards predominate.

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I’m not sure why, but I did stick with the show and liked it more as time went on. The female characters in this era of suffragettes and working women drew me in. We’re supposed to identify with Agnes (Aisling Loftus), a shop assistant who gets sacked for letting Selfridge behind the counter in the first store she worked in. The stern floorwalker saw this and saw her exchange with friendly, American Selfridge and gave her the sack saying “We’re not that kind of store.” Out on the street, unable to find another job with a younger brother to support, Agnes summons the pluck to ask Mr. Selfridge for a job. Pluck’s Selfridge’s life’s blood and he hires her. In the first season Agnes’ growth has been as compelling as watching Selfridge succeed. She’s been promoted to lady’s fashion, fallen in love (though she doesn’t call it that), escaped a drunken, abusive father and shown her talent for design and retail. She’s not as interesting as The Paradise’s Denise, whom I think has more spark, but her rags to riches story entertains.

In the first episodes it was hard to watch Rose Buckingham Selfridge (Francis O’Connor) put up with her philandering husband. That hasn’t gotten easier, and I cringe when Rose gets too close to a starving artist, who later tries to come on to her teenage daughter, but Rose’s scene when she puts Harry’s lover, Eva in her place showed grace under pressure. Rose is complex and it can’t be easy to be married to Harry, not just because of his carousing but also due to his personality.

Like Downton Abbey, subplots and secondary characters like the sophisticated, conniving Lady Mae Loxley (Kathleen Kelly) who arranges Selfridge’s financial backing when his first partner pulls out, Mr. Grove the head of staff who’s wife is an invalid so he’s got a thing going with the strict head of accessories, Miss Mardle. I will criticize Mr. Selfridge for trying to spice up history for the sake of ratings. While infidelity is nothing new, it’s rampant in this drama and it comes across as a play for ratings. One philandering character is enough for an hour’s television. Give other characters other problems. (I doubt that request would be heeded.)

Henri Leclair (Grégory Fitoussi of Engrenage fame) lends savoir faire to the store as he’s a master of window design. He’s also a pillar for Selfridge, a loyal colleague and friend from their days in Chicago. He adds romance as towards the end of season 1, he turns to innocent Agnes to replace his French lover, a modern woman who always wears a tie and who works for J. Walter Thompson. I was sorry to see how Agnes got left and didn’t quite buy how stoically she let him off the hook.

The show’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. It could be better, but I guess I’m on board for another season. Some critics have pointed out that Piven’s not good with nuanced emotion. Close ups should stop. They fall flat. (Downton doesn’t use them.) I think that would help. That’s probably valid, still since Selfridge puts so much of his heart into his store, his work family.

Sherlock: The Sign of Three

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Warning, readers: Spoilers below.

John Watson marries Mary Marston in this episode. Yet Sherlock in many ways overshadows the couple, as one would expect. While the secondary characters like Mrs. Hudson are excited for the couple most are worried about Sherlock. How will he handle this change in his friendship with Watson? I’d rather the big question surrounded solving a crime and capturing the criminal.

The episode did have its bright spots: the costumes were splendid as were the settings. I really liked the bright yellow walls in the place where the reception was held.

The episode started with Lestrade desperately trying to capture three elusive bank robbers. A series of scenes shows the police’s near misses over the course of a year. (Why wasn’t Sherlock brought in to help?) Just as Lestrade and his officers are about to make their arrest, he gets a text from Sherlock. “Help!” Though capturing these robbers is crucial to Lestrade, he decides to race over to 221 B Baker Street to help Sherlock. Since he thinks this plea indicates a dire emergency, Lestrade calls the station to send loads of officers over to 221 B.

But wouldn’t you know it was a big misunderstanding? Sherlock just needed a question about John’s wedding answered. If we hadn’t seen this sort of joke before it would be funny. The show’s done this before with John racing to Sherlock’s aid for a false alarm. While Sherlock’s behavior wouldn’t change, those around him would learn and would think twice before sounding the alarm or racing to him. Why didn’t Lestrade call first? He’s not an idiot.

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The show was uneven to me. Because of all the attention paid to the wedding and how Sherlock would cope, I felt the show was off kilter. The first crime we see involves the murder of a Royal Guard and that was undertaken mainly as a diversion to get the boys out of the house.

There were some scenes with Mycroft which seemed superfluous. Since the episode is entitled “The Sign of Three,” and does borrow characters’ names from “The Sign of Four, I’d hoped we’d see some version of the annoying, and humorous Abernathy Jones, whose in that novel. A modern Abernathy Jones could be hilarious or vexing and intrigue us all. We don’t need Mycroft in every story.

The crimes seem tacked on as if its a bother to deal with them, which shouldn’t be the case. They are the crux of the series. Jonathan Small, the murderer, has a personality and back story that’s paper thin. In the original there’s much more dimension to him.

The writers fill the time with sequences that wore out their welcome fast. I didn’t need to see a protracted stag party/pub crawl with Sherlock and Watson getting plastered. Sure, if you must, show them getting drunk, but do it quickly. The humor of the drunk stumbling around is of the lowest order. I can do without the cliché. Also, the wedding speech dragged on. Though it was interspersed with lots of flashbacks, it still dragged. The speech contained some touching moments and did provide some exposition, but it went on far too long.

After last week’s episode, “The Empty Hearse,” which was weighed down by nods to fans and fan fiction, this episode made me long for Jeremy Brett‘s Sherlock Holmes. While I’m fine with the idea of deviating from tradition, I do still want a good story and not a potentially good story hidden amongst easy gags. It seems like writers Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson, are drunk on the show’s popularity and have taken to writing to the giddier fans. I could excuse a fluffy episode like this if we weren’t limited to three Sherlocks a year.

Not to harp too much about the original, but in the novel, we do learn why John so loves Mary. He worries about whether he’s too poor for her as she’s the heir to a fortune. He describes her character and in the end he is able to propose. I have liked the character of Mary Marston played by Amanda Abbington does a fine job, but she doesn’t have much background. She’s a beautiful cheerful woman who doesn’t try to divide these friends, but there’s no sign of why John’s marrying this beautiful, cheerful woman rather than another. In the book, that was clear.

Library Wars

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Is an idea worth fighting for?

Library Wars is a Japanese film based on a manga series by Hiro Arikawa. The film focuses on the conflict between the Japanese Library System’s credo of supporting protecting intellectual freedom and the government’s Media Betterment Act of 1989 that legalizes censorship.

The story opens in 2019 when the Betterment Squad, a band of armed men all dressed in black suits, open fire in a library killing all but one librarian. Next the Betterment Squad descends on a bookstore where they pull all the improper books off the shelves and out of the hands of customers. One high school student, Iku Kasahara, hides an adventure book behind her back and which the Betterment Police soon find. A tug of war between Iku and the book police ensues. When the Library Defense Squad, a department of the library system that’s armed and can shoot to warn, arrive one of its soldiers comes to the girl’s aid. He approves the book for library purchase. Immediately this soldier becomes the girls hero. Iku plans to follow in his footsteps.

Years later Iku joins the Library Defense Force. She’s an energetic, able, idealistic recruit who soon becomes the sole woman to make it into their elite force. Yet she does so despite Dojo, her drill sargent’s harsh treatment of her.

The film’s got an upbeat didactic tone, as many manga do. Itu is a typical genki (i.e. Energetic in a very Japanese way) woman. She’s easy to root for as she has the right mix of skill, idealism and flaws.

Though Dojo’s unfair to Itu, we forgive him because his tough treatment is a result of his idealism and eventual love for this rookie.

Library Wars is a fun film with a message. The message is put out there rather blatantly, but I found I could excuse that as I don’t often see intellectual freedom promoted to the culture at large. Like manga do, it makes an esoteric idea accessible and can promote discussion of big ideas like intellectual freedom amongst us ordinary folk. While the film should fall flat for its message, it doesn’t because you sense the characters do believe that intellectual freedom is worth dying for.

Amazing, huh?

From Second City

I love this take on The Giving Tree because I have always seen that story as encouraging people to be doormats. One sided love does not need to be promoted to the young.

What do you think?

Silver Linings Playbook

JENNIFER LAWRENCE and BRADLEY COOPER star in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

While I enjoyed Silver Lining Playbook, the story of Pat, a bipolar man released from a mental institution, who’s intensely committed to getting his wife back. I wouldn’t watch it twice. It’s good, but not that good.

Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and the rest of the cast all turn in fine performances and the story pulls one along. I was just too aware of the plot points and screenwriting conventions to be blown away. I found the energy between characters, particularly Pat’s father (De Niro), Pat (Cooper) and Tiffany (Lawrence), entertaining, though I was aware that I was suspending disbelief while I watched. I guess I just don’t spend much time with people who’re so compulsive.

Midway through the story Pat Sr., who’s very superstitious, bets a fortune on a big game. Throughout the film the characters’ reverence for football is played out and I suppose some people’s lives do revolve around these hobbies in this fashion. I didn’t mind watching their rituals, but sometimes I felt manipulated. For example, Pat goes to a football game and sees his Indian shrink alight from a stereotypical bus that you’d see in New Delhi with Hindu gods painted on it. Never in a million years would this professional take that bus with all his Indian friends to a game. They might drive in sedans, but that wouldn’t serve the plot. Of course, some red necks bully the minorities and Pat gets into the fray after trying really hard not to. Will he be sent back to the mental hospital? That worry is worked throughout the film.

I think and hope we’re in the midst of a change in story paradigms so the conventions are more noticeable, and for me, disappointing. Adding a bet to a plot is so simplistic, such a cop out, as is abnormal psychology in characterization. I know bipolar people and they aren’t like Pat or Tiffany. Now those folks mainly take their meds, but not always. Also, there seems to be a disproportionate number of mentally ill characters on screens, big and small, in the U.S. now. Writers seem fascinated with them and I think they’re easier to write than other characters. I admit Tiffany’s personality, while abrasive to the nth degree was compelling, but the idea that a relationship with her as she is is a good idea for anyone was hard to buy. Lawrence got the Oscar for her performance, but the Academy falls for these sorts of characters a lot. While a crazy chick is a compelling character, I don’t think the performance ranks as best of the year, unless 2012 was a slow year for female roles.

I saw Silver Lining Playbook because my friend Michele recommended it strongly. It was a fine movie, but not a must see. I’m glad I didn’t spend $10 on a ticket.

VEEP, Season 2 Begins

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VEEP,  Season 2 starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus has begun!

Season Two opened with the midterm elections and the VP’s party gets crushed by the opposition. Serina, the VP, sees this as an opportunity to reposition her role in the administration and tries to orchestrate a power grab. Gary Cole plays a despised Senior Strategist for the President, who as usual never appears.

The episode flew by with lots of rapid fire jokes and physical humor involving getting the VP out of the Oval Office after she’s gotten her lip stick all over the President’s rug. It’s one of the best comedies on American television, though I have to say In the Thick of It was funnier. I think it would help to show the opposition party sometimes.