A new variation of “Upstairs Downstairs” set in a department store, the “Masterpiece Classic” presentation of “Mr. Selfridge” (8 p.m. Sunday, PBS, check local listings) is scripted by Andrew Davies (“Bleak House”) and features the first starring role for Jeremy Piven since his Emmy-winning turn in “Entourage.”
Piven plays Harry Gordon Selfridge, a Chicago merchandiser who shakes up early 20th-century London society by catering to customers and whipping up public awareness of his shopping emporium with an outsized gusto that some find exciting and others deem vulgar. His penchant for huge gestures excites his thousands of employees and makes his department store a perfect setting for love affairs, social striving and the emancipation of its many female employees from Victorian mores.
In its early going, “Selfridge” unfolds like a highly choreographed dance, as the title character inspires, conspires and perspires with a bracing all-American energy. In some ways, “Selfridge” has the high-strung energy of a musical without a score.
And it’s too bad Davies never wrote that libretto, because what might have worked as operetta often seems stilted as melodrama. And the fault lies principally with its star. As Selfridge, Piven delivers every line with an enthusiasm just short of bombast. His volume and tone rarely vary. Whether he’s sharing an intimate moment with his mistress, exhorting hundreds of employees to greater sales or chastising his daughters at breakfast, he’s always selling something — most often, himself.
• The epic series “Game of Thrones” (8 p.m. Sunday, HBO) enters its highly anticipated third season. Bring on the betrayals, swordplay and dragons. A lavishly produced variation on appointment TV, “Game” is hard to follow and a challenge to fully comprehend. But its followers, once they’re hooked, find it impossible to miss.
Sunday’s other highlights
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Testimony may free a man imprisoned for four decades; Sudan’s lost boys.
• A birthday to remember on “Call the Midwife” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings).
• “The Bible” (7 p.m., History) surveys the New Testament, from Christ’s betrayal and crucifixion to Paul’s conversion and mission.