The Naughty Side of Brit TV

~Harlots   A show that fully embraces its inner sluttiness and flings it out into the world in full technicolour glory. The overarching storyline is a turf war between two rival brothel owners in late 1700’s London, who happen to share a very complicated past. Margaret Wells is unapologetic about her roots, views prostitution as a way (the only way) for women to gain financial independence and is not beneath auctioning off her daughter’s virginity to the highest bidder. Across town, Lydia Quigley, runs a much classier establishment with girls who dress elegantly, play the piano and speak French. Margaret and Lydia bring out the worst in each other and the consequences of their malicious squabbles often have dire consequences for everyone involved. Along with its stellar cast, it’s snappily written and has an endless stream of hilarious euphemisms for sex. Despite all this however, I struggled with season one because it feels, well, a little hollow. Fortunately, the next season settles into itself, so if you’re on the fence, stick with it. Gone is the jarring techno-pop soundtrack (which I hated) along with (most of) the frenzied energy which was overwhelming. Instead, the show rounds out and softens, putting more emphasis on the women’s character development, emphasizing the idea of prostitution as empowerment for women and juxtaposing it against the limitless depravity and hypocrisy of men. A bawdy and salacious romp through Georgian England this may be, but it takes a satisfyingly matter-of-fact approach to sex work.

~Brief Encounters In 1980’s Sheffield a group of women of all ages and walks of life are brought together when they get into the rather cheeky business of selling knickers and sex toys through home parties. Yep, this show gets down and dirty in a charmingly quaint and fun way. Steph, Pauline, Nita and Dawn are struggling to find their own independence in a world dominated by men while trying to make ends meet: which basically makes this a show about women rising to the occasion when the men in their lives can’t (and, yes, I just went there). It’s warmhearted and funny entertainment about female camaraderie which’ll give all the feels.

~Sex Education The name might be a dead giveaway but this show is all sex all the time. And yet it isn’t about sex at all. It has a distinctly 70’s look with a touch of the 80’s, some 50’s nostalgia and a heavy hit of grandma chic. The cars are old and yet people whip out their cellphones and work on modern day computers. And the British school it’s set in has a heavy American aesthetic with an Ivy League style campus, lockers and letterman jackets. Not a school any Brit would recognize. Ever. But it’s definitely set in Britain. A show positively overflowing with contradictions. But then it’s about teenagers — so maybe not strange at all. It’s warm and funny and guaranteed to make you squirm at every turn as you are forced to re-live large chunks of your own teenage years. It’s about being different but fitting in, being true to yourself while making space for others. It covers just about every iteration of teen hook up imaginable, every version of teen angst, every embarrassing situation known to man and handles every single one of them beautifully and authentically. I wasn’t anticipating much from this series but it turned into one of my favorite TV watches ever — one where you are left bereft when you’ve binged it all over the course of a few days.

~Fleabag Sex doesn’t play a central role in this show but it’s plenty naughty! The uber talented Phoebe Waller Bridge plays Fleabag (she’s never given another name) a free-spirited Londoner who has recently endured a tragedy (the details of which are parsed out over several episodes). She’s a bit of a mess— a lot of a mess—has no filter, is full of contradictions (and even more expletives) and is continually tripping herself up as she navigates a tangle of relationships. Fleabag is forever breaking the fourth wall with laugh out loud asides to the camera or a brilliantly placed expression or raised eyebrow. The writing is fast paced, biting, frequently crass, often crude and yet also deeply poignant. But by far the best thing about it is that the storylines exhibit wicked insight into people and relationships with scenarios which hit the nail on the end every single time. Sadly, there are just two seasons of six episodes apiece — but they are sheer genius.

~Catastrophe American businessman Rob is visiting London, meets Irish schoolteacher Sharon and the two indulge in a marathon sex session over the course of a few days, which has unexpected and very long term consequences when Sharon discovers she’s pregnant. When Rob finds out, he returns to London and the two decide to forge blindly ahead into the world of coupledom. And it aint pretty. But it is funny — dry, deadpan humour funny. Together they give adulting their best shot, attempting to create some semblance of order out of the mess of their lives — Rob with his laid back, sweet bumbliness and Sharon with her cutting, snarky wisecracks. There are some spectacular rows—about money, kids, alcohol— and near constant bickering,  but at the end of the day they make excellent teammates, enjoy each others company immensely and make each other laugh. It’s a show about the ordinary, brutal demands of life,  filled with sly wit and astute observations about the world, the people in it and how we’re all here, just trying to muddle our way through and survive parenthood.

~Secret Diary Of A Call Girl Cross a modern day Harlots with a touch of Fleabag and you’ve got yourself Secret Diary Of A Call Girl. Hannah, a college educated call girl in London, lets her family and friends believe she’s a legal secretary. Secretly, she’s Belle The Hooker. She found herself in the world’s oldest profession not through trauma or desperation, but sheer co-incidence and she continued, because, well, she loves sex. And money. Belle addresses the camera directly, spilling the ins and outs of  her job, the do’s and don’ts, the behind the scenes sneak peaks — a sorta, kinda field guide to prostitution if you will. Billie Piper is cheeky and radiant as Belle strutting her stuff, finding a partner for a couples engagement, researching fetishism to provide for one client and buying a saddle to up the ante for another. There’s oodles of coquettish sass, lots of London beauty shots, and a fabulous soundtrack. Each short episode has a self-contained storyline which does give the show a sense of isolation and remoteness, claustrophobia even, especially as Belle has to keep her life secret from most people limiting her authentic relationships. Admittedly though, I have only watched the first couple of seasons so it’s possible that Belle’s world opens up as time goes on. Or maybe the loneliness is the point given her lifestyle – in which case it works pretty well.

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