Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pilot Review: Harlots

Harlots (Hulu)
Premiered March 29

As soon as I started watching this show, I knew that it couldn’t be a Hulu original since the cast is littered with British people and it seems like a foreign concept in a complimentary, fancy way. In this case, it’s not a series that premiered months ago in England but rather one that’s airing almost simultaneously, on Mondays on ITV and on Wednesdays on Hulu. This is a period drama if I’ve ever seen one, with more cast members than I can possible list and a whole bunch of subplots with a great deal of intrigue embedded in each one of them. Think of it as a more old-fashioned “Downton Abbey” of how the other side lives, one step below the servants with prostitutes who, in some cases, pride themselves on what they do and in others feel hopelessly indebted to a life of misery. Starting with the statistic that one in five women in London is a prostitute is interesting, and the public nature of their profession provides additional appeal since, deny as they might in court, they’re not keeping secrets from too many people. I recognized the reliable and formidable Samantha Morton, from such things as “Minority Report” and “The Messenger,” as Margaret Wells, but I couldn’t identify Lesley Manville, my AFT Award winner in 2010 for Best Actress for her quiet tour de force performance in “Another Year,” as her main rival Lydia Quigley. I was also sure I knew Margaret’s daughter, and that’s because she’s from “Downton Abbey,” Jessica Brown Findlay, who played sympathetic sister Sybil. This show’s costumes and set pieces are impressive, and I think it’s a solid show that I might make time for if there weren’t so many other series that more particularly appealed to me on the air.

How will it work as a series? There have already been a few enormous developments, including a betrayal by one of Margaret’s previously most loyal earners, a refusal to accept the life she’s been chosen for by Charlotte, and of course the legal implications of the police visit to the brothel. This show can certainly program eight episodes.
How long will it last? Don’t expect ratings data to be available from Hulu, which has been churning out show after show this year, beginning to rival Netflix and Amazon. This show appears to have received decent mentions, and I expect that it will be picked up by both networks to continue for another season.

Pilot grade: B

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