Emily Dickinson, but make it hot and horny: It’s an irresistible proposition, especially for someone (like me) who loves a period drama and has a passing interest in things that are hot and horny. It’s also the idea behind Dickinson, the Gen-Z-friendly Apple TV+ take on the period dramedy.
Trailers for Dickinson promised an interesting — specifically, horny — new take on what is sort of a staid genre. Those teases offered a slate of attractive teens in corsets and breeches. There was a strong suggestion of passionate romance, and there was most certainly sex, as evidenced by an errant hand trailing over a bare thigh. It all looked very hot.
Unfortunately, Dickinson is so caught up its trying-to-be-hip–ness that it forgets to be clever, let alone interesting, let alone horny. What you get instead is The Favourite by way of Disney Channel, filtered through a TikTok algorithm.
And this is what the algorithm spits out: Hailee Steinfeld in 20-something-minute episodes; a soundtrack that is mostly Lizzo and SoundCloud; Wiz Khalifa; a house-party scene à la Project X; a bit of dialogue about women’s rights that best resembles this ridiculous line from the trailer for The Aeronauts: “Women don’t belong in balloons!” Stakes are low; tension, absent.
Which brings me back to the fact that the show doesn’t deliver on its principal promise: to be horny! There’s an attempt with the central romance plot, a forbidden-love story between Emily and her best friend, Sue (Ella Hunt), who don’t really seem like friends, let alone lovers. Their relationship, which pivots from platonic friendship to passionate romance in all of ten minutes, is rushed and feels like nothing but a check mark next to a box labeled “Is this show as Gen-Z-proof as possible?”
The other potentially steamy relationship is between Emily’s brother and Sue, which opens with the former performing oral sex on the latter (beneath 90 pounds of petticoats); this could have been good but is followed by a distressed Sue spending the rest of the show trying to escape him. Outside that main trio of characters, Dickinson forgoes all the raging-hormone drama that a series about high schoolers might offer, in favor of a script that, again, would be more at home on Disney Channel circa 2005. Mostly, it can’t seem to decide if its audience is kids, children, teens, or adults, which makes the whole thing feel deranged.
Disney Channel is not what I signed up for, especially when I thought I was getting Emily Dickinson plus drugs, sex, and teen angst. Instead, it’s a show that an out-of-touch parent might think their precocious teen might like but that they turn off when the characters start doing opium to “I Like Tuh,” by Carnage feat. ILoveMakonnen. And while I am neither a teen nor the parent of one, I can tell you one thing: If you’re looking for a truly horny historical drama, try Atonement.