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Men have beach babes (preferably oiled-up beach babes in motion). Women have BBC miniseries in which characters subvert class norms and then die of consumption.

Such is the gender dichotomy of modern TV.

Our newest such period obsession is Mr. Selfridge, which premieres this Sunday at 9 p.m. on PBS.

The show begins in 1908 London, where the devilishly charming Harry Selfridge (Jeremy Piven) is on the brink of opening England’s famous department store. But not without one or two slight missteps.

Selfridges was one of the first retailers to carry so many types of goods in one place (and to cater--scandalously--to both the rich and the poor), and writer Andrew Davies (of the award-winning Bleak House) does a great job of subtly exploring these traditional/progressive and upstairs/downstairs clashes.

The real highlight, however, is the ensemble cast. Piven may be the star, but Mr. Selfridge closely follows the characters who flutter around him: the self-serving stage actress he hires as “the face of Selfridges,” the struggling shopgirl with a checkered past, the flamboyant Frenchman whose window displays border on works of art.

And in a way, the entire series is one big window display--from the painstakingly reconstructed interiors to the gorgeous Edwardian costumes. The hats alone are reason enough to tune in.

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