‘Harlots’ reviews: Will Emmys embrace Hulu’s newest original series?

Hulu is the streaming service mostly known for streaming episodes you may have missed the night they aired. But last year they had a big breakthrough for their original content, scoring two Emmy nominations: Best Supporting Visual Effects for “11.22.63” and Best Writing for a Variety Special for “Triumph’s Election Special 2016.” Looking to increase its Emmy haul this year is Hulu’s latest drama “Harlots” starring two-time Oscar nominee Samantha Morton (“Sweet and Lowdown” in 1999 and “In America” in 2002) and “Downton Abbey” alum Jessica Brown Findlay.

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The hour-long series takes place in 1763 London, England where, as it explains in the pilot, one in five women make a living selling sex. Enter Margaret Wells (Morton) a brothel owner trying to move up in the world. In order to do so she has to stay ahead of her bitter rival Lydia Quigley (Lesley Manville). To accomplish her goals, she sells her youngest daughter Lucy (Eloise Smyth) to the highest bidder while trying to keep her more independent older daughter Charlotte (Findlay) in line.

Critical response to the show has been extremely positive, scoring a whopping 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 74 score on Metacritic. “Harlots” is somewhat of a rarity in the male-dominated Hollywood as the showrunners and creators Moira Buffini and Alison Newman are both women, as are all of the producers, writers and directors. Critics have praised the show’s fresh take on the oldest profession, including these reviews:

David Wiegand (San Francisco Chronicle): “The script is evocative of Fielding’s ‘Tom Jones a Foundling’ (1749) or Defoe’s ‘Moll Flanders’ (1722), and the performances are sublime. Morton and Manville make engaging adversaries — rather like 18th century versions of ‘Dynasty’s’ Alexis and Krystle.”

Danette Chavez (A.V. Club): “The show belongs to Morton, who plays the bawd, mother, entrepreneur, and second-class citizen with equal vigor and humor.”

Matthew Gilbert (Boston Globe): “It’s a bawdy, funny, gritty, and at times moving drama that flies in the face most of the period costume dramas we’ve seen on TV over the years.”

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Morton, a past Emmy nominee for Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress (“Longford” in 2006), is easily the series standout and could receive a bid. The other categories to look out for are Best Costume Design and Best Production Design. If nominated, it will likely face off against “The Crown” and “Feud” but both of those shows are set in the 1950s and could cancel each other out. “Harlots,” set in the 18th century, could be at an advantage as its costumes and their rich colors will set themselves apart from the competition.

Should “Harlots” be left begging on the street corner by the Emmys there is a silver lining: the Golden Globes. No other award show has embraced series from a streaming service more than the Hollywood Foreign Press. Hulu last year scored their first series nomination for Best Comedy/Musical for “Casual.” So “Harlots” and their madam Morton and her daughter Findlay could always receive some awards attention from that group.

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