Fill the Outlander-sized slot in your television viewing schedule with Poldark, a lush 18th century soap opera based on Winston Graham’s novels about hotheaded Ross Poldark (The Hobbit’s Aidan Turner) who returns home to Cornwall after the Revolutionary War, where he finds his late father’s estate in shambles and his sweetheart (Heida Reed) married to his stuffy cousin. Based on the title alone, we wouldn’t blame you if you opted out in favor of returning to your usual period drama reruns, but we’re sharing seven all-important reasons why you should make an appointment with your TV to tune into Poldark. (Yes, really.)
1. Aidan Turner. Sure, you know him as a feisty knee-high dwarf, but Poldark reveals a side of the 31-year-old American audiences have never seen before, all super-hot smolder and sexy cut abs. Then there’s his romance with kitchen maid Demelza. Their relationship is of the slow-burn variety – which may be just the thing to add some sizzle to your summer.
2. Eleanor Tomlinson. The British newcomer shines as spunky, spirited Demelza. Her makeover from an awkward teen servant to charming mistress of the house is definitely enjoyable, but what’s really sweet (and a surprising twist on usual gender-driven tropes) is the way her character transforms Poldark from a headstrong youth to a tender hero.
3. Countless craggy cliffs. And horses. And grassy knolls. This is period drama is impeccably produced, which means if that six-week walking tour in the British countryside remains just out of reach, then this series offers just the dose of escape right from the comfort of your couch.
4. Cast Performances. Reed and actress Ruby Bentall get a special nod for their performances; Reed as Poldark’s first love and Bentall as his straightforward cousin Verity. They both manage to capture very specific aspects of the issues 18th century women faced—some of which remain applicable today.
5. Because you miss Downton Abbey, Outlander, Mr. Selfridge and Call the Midwife. There’s no shortage of period drama currently on the air, but Poldark combines the best of British storytelling with a thoroughly gripping modern feel that’s reminiscent of a really good primetime soap. Plus, it’s a joint BBC/Masterpiece Theater production – which means you should feel classier the second the credits start rolling.
6. Family drama. Sure, there’s lots of romance (read: heaving bosoms constrained in all-too-tight corsets), but at its heart, Poldark is a solid family drama. Throughout the eight-part series, we see Ross struggle to restore the family fortune, as well as wrestle with his status as the proverbial black sheep in his prestigious family. His cousin Francis (Kyle Soller) has his own trials as he endeavors to follow his father (Warren Clarke)’s footsteps, and there’s also a hefty clash over class when Demelza marries into the Poldark family. Will it be too much for her to bear – or can she upend centuries of snobbery? While many aspects of the period-driven storyline may seem decidedly rooted in history, themes centered on family, financial struggle and love are definitely familiar.
7. Winston Graham. Yes, I did just name drop a deceased British novelist, but bear with me. Graham’s series of Poldark novels – the first of which was published in 1945 and the last published in 2002 – was adapted for TV by the BBC and Masterpiece Theater in 1970s with huge success. (It earned both BAFTA and Primetime Emmy nominations in 1978). There’s a significant amount of pressure associated with this new adaptation, but luckily its fast-paced episodes are totally in keeping its with its outsized, critically-acclaimed predecessor. And did we mention the series (which has become a smash hit in Britain, where it’s already aired) has been renewed for a second season? Seems like there’s no time like the present to get on board with Poldark.
Poldark premieres on June 21 on PBS at 9 p.m. (Check your local TV listings for time.)