Harlots arrives today on Hulu to bring all the varied shades of female sexuality to television. The British drama follows an 18th century mother named Margaret Wells (Samantha Morton), who also happens to be a brothel owner. In “Episode 1,” Margaret makes the difficult decision to auction off her youngest daughter Lucy’s virginity to the highest bidder.
Margaret’s choice for Lucy (Eloise Smyth) is dark and disturbing, but in the matriarch’s mind it’s the only way to advance her family’s financial and social standing. As Margaret and Lucy deal with that moral quandary, the oldest Wells sister Charlotte (Jessica Brown Findlay) considers signing what’s essentially an ownership contract from her wealthy and whiny benefactor, Sir George (Hugh Skinner).
Although the Harlots pilot has all the depth and lush beauty of premium Emmy bait like Outlander or The Tudors, it also has something they’re missing. The Hulu newbie hides a crackling wit underneath its serious surface. When they’re not dealing with the real-life dangers of sex work, the characters of Harlots say some truly absurd and unexpected things in “Episode 1.” Take a look at the slideshow to see what we mean.