HARLOTS & why y’all should please give it a go
Y’all, I am LOVIN this show so far. I’ve just binged what’s on Hulu at this point (episodes 1 – 3) and OHHH, it’s got so much fun and so many feels!!! If you like female-driven narratives, the 18th century, delightful costumes, a great cast (many of whom you might recognize from other shows), and opulent splendor mixed in with gritty squalor, you might just find that you love it, too. Let me share with you but a few of the delights it has in store:
First and foremost, it’s about, and from the perspective of, women.
Almost the entire main cast is female, and the entire show is just about WOMEN – of all ages and stripes – and their struggle to find/maintain/balance their independence, security, and happiness. And yes, the main conflict involves women pitted against one other, but there’s also so much of women SUPPORTING one another and CARING about one another and LAUGHING and MOURNING and just being HUMANS. Eating, drinking, dancing, sweating, farting, hugging, crying, bitching, whining, hurting, comforting, teasing, yearning, complicated humans.
It’s also created, written, and directed by women, and I do think that’s informed how it handles the characters & narrative. Not gonna lie; when I first heard about this show, all I could think of was how gross this premise could be in the wrong hands (male or female). I worried that it would be trashy and exploitative and superficial. But it’s not. Even sensitive material – implied/mentioned sexual assault – is handled deftly and compassionately, focusing always on the victim’s trauma/well-being rather than on any “shock value” attached to the (off-screen) act itself. The sex workers may be objectified and demonized by some other characters, but they are never treated that way by the narrative itself.
And the harlots are all so interesting! Even the background ones have distinct personalities (and a surprising amount of sexual tension with the local moralizer’s daughter). The Wells ladies – mama and daughters, pictured above – are my particular faves.
Other favorite characters include Will North, gentle brothel dad and the only good man in London…
Nancy Birch, who dresses like a highwayman, wields a sick-ass whip, and pushes me a little closer to 6 on the Kinsey scale every time I see her jawline…
And Thomas Haxby, The Saltiest Man On Earth.
“I don’t think you’re a dog at all, Mr. Haxby,” one character summarizes aptly: “I think you’re a bitch.”
He’s such a scheming little viper and I LOVE IT.
Naturally, given the subject matter, there’s a good amount of female nudity. But if your tastes run to more masculine delights, don’t worry – the boys know how to put on a show, too!
Even the title sequence has wormed its way into my heart, by virtue of appealing to my appreciation for three of life’s greatest gifts: bold typography, old-timey engravings, and butts.
Not to mention that – as you can probably tell from these caps – Harlots avoids the overly dark and muted palette that too many period dramas feel is necessary in order to telegraph to the audience that we are looking back through The Sepia Mists of Time. Costumes and sets alike are colorful and fun. Garish, sometimes, in that late-18th-century way – but if, like me, you have a certain fondness for men wearing powder and rouge, that’s not a bad thing at all!
So if a grimy-yet-gorgeous show about ladies trying to carve out their fair share in life sounds like your cup of tea, give it a try. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season leads.