The Georgian era wasn’t really a sexy time to be alive. Cholera and typhoid were Britain’s hottest exports, the reigning king was often deemed too German for the country’s liking, and the brothels, my God, all the brothels. But lucky for us, creative licensing has infiltrated the small screen in recent years with some extremely enjoyable shows taking place in the era, perhaps owing to TV executives (finally) realizing that period dramas double as catnip for American viewers, year of origin be damned. Here, in no particular order, are eight fantastic Georgian-set shows you can stream.
We love a confident social climber who lives for the art of the scam! Now serving as a mirror to Emma Stone’s royal deviant in The Favourite, our “heroine” in Vanity Fair, played in this adaptation by Olivia Cooke, just wants to get to the top of society by any means necessary — even if that means flirting with and seducing some truly snoozy men. She gets a leg-up in her endeavors thanks to a rich friend from school who takes her in after they graduate, but even by the time she finally gets married, you still might be begging her to channel her energy into anything else, like the goddamn Napoleonic War that’s raging in the background. (The 2004 movie with Reese Witherspoon is also pretty great.)
Where to stream: Amazon
Captain Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner) is a man of constant sorrow, but a man of handsome constant sorrow, so that’s a little more fun. The series begins with this handsome fella in truly dire straits, as he somehow has to juggle (1) returning to his sleepy seaside town after fighting in the Revolutionary War, (2) discovering that his father is dead, (3) realizing his estate is in debt shambles, and (4) finding out his lady is engaged to someone else, and someone else who sucks. It’s a doozy, but he has a real heart of gold — or rather, copper, as it’s the family business — and he begins to rebuild his life one day at a time.
The battle to become London’s top brothel has everyone in a horny tizzy in Harlots, which follows two competing “houses” on different sides of the clientele spectrum: One dabbles in refined elegance with its wigs and gowns and pastel décor, while the other, uh, favors a more grungy aesthetic. Most of the action comes down to the lingering power struggle of the madames — formidably played by Lesley Manville and Samantha Morton — but the prostitutes get to have some fun, too, treating their clients with a cheeky disdain. (Also, funny sex scenes.) You’ll never look at Downton Abbey’s Lady Sybil the same way again, trust us.
Where to stream: Hulu
Not all of Outlander is actually set in the Georgian era — the joys of time travel at work — but for all of the hot and kinky sex stuff you probably know about, can you actually recall the show’s main narrative? Here goes nothing for the newbies: In 1946, a war nurse (Caitriona Balfe) and her husband (Tobias Menzies) are enjoying a nice trip in Inverness when a bunch of magic stones transport her back about 200 years, and she’s forced to adapt to her new environs by any means necessary, which includes, naturally, marrying a new husband (Sam Heughan). War, love, a little treason, and the aforementioned hot and kinky sex stuff ensue.
A very mustachioed Tom Hardy plays a very gruff dude who returns to London after being presumed dead to bury his father and take over his burgeoning shipping business. Some people aren’t particularly thrilled that the prodigal son is back after a decade of rigor mortis — he was actually just working in Africa — but that doesn’t bother him much, as he’s channeling all of that Big Mustache Energy into annihilating the East India Company and avenging his pop’s death. Do! Not! Get! In! His! Way!
We get three Casanovas for the price of one! David Tennant, Peter O’Toole, and Tom Burke each get an episode in this Marie Antoinette-esque series chronicling a specific point in the famed lothario’s life, but it’s not all afternoon orgies on ships and binge-drinking with cardinals. Instead, the septuagenarian gets a bit wistful about his life on the road and the one woman he never ended up with, especially now that he’s alone, broke, and pretty unhappy. But who knows, maybe there’s still time.
Where to stream: Netflix
You thought Poldark was depressing? Allow us to transport you to the unbelievably grim world of New South Wales, where nearly the entire populace consists of criminals banished by the British government to rot away for the rest of their lives. Seriously: There’s not one good thing to say about this penal colony, as much as we’d love an unexpected prison situation à la Paddington 2 — there are hundreds of violent criminals, guards who like to abuse them, and women who are constantly subjected to rape. Not the cheeriest miniseries, that’s for sure.
The best way to describe the four Lennox sisters is that they’re the 18th-century equivalent of the Kardashians, given that they were a major source of tabloid fodder — or rather, pamphlet fodder — for their various relationships, scandals, and outfit choices in the upper-crust London social scene. The Aristocrats is a retelling of their golden years in the city, before they eventually hunkered down with their various baron husbands and pesky children. What fun they had, though!
Where to stream: Amazon