Outlander vs. Poldark: breaking down your conflicted 18th Century guilty pleasures

Hi, my name is Ashley, and I’m an Obsessenach. I imagine you are too, and it feels so warm and fuzzy to be among such wonderful friends. While we’re sharing, a quick question — are we in the tree of trust? I think we are, so here goes… *deep breath*

Confession: I might have a tiny crush on Poldark. Okay, FINE — it’s a ginormous, unabashed, unrelenting, must-have-more type of crush on Poldark. Yes, the period drama on BBC (PBS here in America, Sundays at 9:00 pm). And let’s be clear — yes, Poldark the MAN. It’s a fixation that is making me question my professed loyalties to Outlander and our beloved King of Men, Jamie Fraser. Or maybe it’s Aidan Turner versus Sam Heughan. Or maybe it’s our delicious show versus this other delicious show? Or maybe not. Ah hell, what a good problem to ponder. Amirite?

But before you judge me, let me explain…

It started innocently enough — doesn’t it always? It was mid-July, and there I was, still basking in the satiated fan glow of the 90 minutes of glorious television that was “Dragonfly in Amber” and facing down another lengthy #Droughtlander when I got a few [hundred] text messages from my mom that all looked similar to this:

Side note: Mom’s emoji game is strong.

Pause for context: It’s important to note that I was the one who tirelessly sold my mom on my need for her to binge watch Outlander… which she finally did, over the course of the 10 days she cared for our three-year-old son while we were on vacation in Scotland (possibly checking out a couple of Outlander scenes while we were there. Maybe.). Nice, right? (As an aside, I’ve recently giddily accepted my lot in life to serve as the parental go-to entertainment resource, fielding weekly inquiries like, “Okay, done. What show is next?” This lovable duo puts my binge watching to shame.)

So when I got that text from my mom, the role reversal had me a tad “whoa — pump the brakes, mom…” as if it couldn’t be possible there was a show I’d missed pushing forward to others, let alone watching myself. Also, is she implying that the King of Men has been replaced?!?

And then I googled “Poldark” and saw this:

Message received. Say no more. I’ll give the first episode a whirl… you know, for the scenery. Three days and eight episodes later (darn that day job), I had finished the first season and found myself suffering from all-in fan withdrawals and Googling things like “Poldark filming locations,” “Poldark cast real life,” “Poldark shirtless farming”… you get the point. This confused me, and my search browser, which I just imagined auto-correcting my frantic typing to “Outlander” as a gentle way to course correct my loyalties. I felt… well, I felt utterly guilty.

But wait, Outlander isn’t on right now. In the midst of a dry and brutal Droughtlander, is it still considered cheating to accept the cool oasis of a worthy substitute? After all, as that other Ross once famously said:

I mean, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do? Right?

Which is why Poldark Season 2 being on IN THE MIDDLE OF DROUGHTLANDER seems as if it was all part of God’s (insert your favorite deity/fatalistic icon) plan. It’s almost as if the powers that be at both shows coordinated the timing of their respective seasons over a dram of whiskey and a knowing nod, assuming that one period drama-obsessed audience full of Anglophiles would surely love another just the same. And boy were they right.

I’ll spare the disgrace of placing an Outlander synopsis here for obvious reasons. However, for those who haven’t sampled Poldark yet, the show is based on a series of books by Winston Graham set in the 18th Century that span decades. Sound familiar? It focuses on Captain Ross Poldark (played by that tall drink of water pictured above, Aidan Turner) who returns from soldiering in the Revolutionary War to his home in Cornwall to find everything gone — from his father to the family mining business to the woman he loves and thought he had an “understanding” with. He must reconsider and rebuild all facets of his life, and we willingly come along for the ride — one set against a backdrop so stunning and rugged that you find yourself swiftly adding Cornwall to your vacation wish list. Again, sound familiar?

Turner’s portrayal of the struggling protagonist is steeped in enough charisma, a particularly appealing sense of masculine vulnerability, an innate ability to carry a show and a well-toned chest that could launch a thousand ships. Last time, I swear — sound familiar?

It’s almost as if I was being forced into a rather cruel, yet scrumptious, game of “Would You Rather” — about the show, the cast, the emotional connection, everything. With all this googling and ogling and binging and every other -ing, I kept insisting to myself… I can’t be alone in my love triangle, right?

Clearly, it was time to phone a friend… or a few. With that in mind, I reached out to a few of my fellow Outlander Cast Blog writers who had admitted suffering from the same Outlander vs. Poldark dilemma to help me settle this once and for all. You know those psychological ink blot tests where patients are asked to state the first thing that pops into their brain upon viewing an image? This is that, Obsessenach style. Consider this your group[ie] therapy couch.

Who sells a show better? Battle of the publicity department’s money shot:

Janet Reynolds: Selling by Photoshop is never a good sign. Jamie had me at the rocks.

Anne Gavin: I’d have to give this one to Ross. Sunsets and windswept curls get me every time.

Denise Stewart: Definitely Scotch on the Rocks!

Ashley Crawley: Ah yes, you always remember your first time… as in, the first time Jamie’s knee played peek-a-boo with me. It’s hard to top that. But Ross’ glare? Swoon. And his scent. I understand it’s a two-dimensional photo but my scratch-and-sniff version would have Ross delivering a proportionately delicious blend of sea spray, earth and THIS WAY TO MY BED.

Well hello, soldier:

Janet: First and above all else, we have knee porn. End of story. Sorry, Ross — but you’re wearing too many clothes.

Anne: Jamie with a wee knee keek and those gorgeous HANDS! Prefer a grubbier Ross anyway.

Denise: Sorry, Jamie has this one hands down. Never have been into the primary color block look.

Ashley: Jamie for the rugged-but-sturdy win. Ross is conjuring up too many memories for my liking here of that “B” I got in sophomore History class. (Hi, Mr. Jucker!)

The look. You know the one:

Janet: Um, hello. I’m sorry but those blue eyes melt clothes. End of story.

Anne: Blue-slanted cat eyes, jaw, chin dimple… I mean — come on — this isn’t even a fair fight.

Denise: This one is a little tougher. But the blue eyes and wet look has me swooning a bit more.

Ashley: #PoldarkAndHandsome, indeed. But, Jamie. Because, well, Jamie.

Oh hell, we’re doing this? Yep, we’re doing this:

Janet: Okay, so Jamie looking directly with love and Ross looking with a “I’m not sure I fully understand why I’m here” look? And that’s without saying what comes next… which is probably one of the top ten most amazing hours of TV EVER. Outlander. Hands down.

Anne: There is nothing more dazzling than a man in full kilt. Jamie cleaned up really nice — even brushed his copper locks, which normally I wouldn’t like, but seemed fitting for the most important day of his life. I defy anyone to say that the Outlander Wedding was not the wedding of all weddings.

Denise: I’m starting to see a pattern here, but the whole Outlander wedding took my breath away. From their first meeting when Jamie says “Your servant, Madame” to the end when she sees her reflection in Frank’s ring and everything in between, Outlander won the wedding. (Although that look that Ross is giving Demelza is, well…)

Ashley: Well, considering that Ross and Demelza’s marriage seemed hurriedly cobbled together from “ah hell, I sampled the goods… now I better do right by you.”… this one solidly goes to the Frasers, whose union (take it however you’d like) we eagerly anticipated through six episodes of build-up.

Who doesn’t love a good man who can get his hands dirty?

Janet: Okay I just find Ross’ abs scary. I mean who HAS those? Less is more, ladies, less is more.

Anne: Yes. Ahem. Ross. Not a fan of the bristly chest hair but you can’t overlook that perfect six-pack and the toothy white smile. Shirtless farming EVERY.DAMN.DAY. Now — if Jamie had his shirt off, it might be a different story.

Denise: I want to say Jamie here. But I have to say Ross. Maybe if we could have Jamie shirtless, it would even the playing field. But, come on — those abs, the tan, the lighting… it’s got to be Poldark!

Ashley: Anne’s right, and my Google search history doesn’t lie — shirtless farming and shirtless mining have become my new favorite spectator sports. Let me be clear, I ADORE Jamie Fraser, but where Ross (and Aiden Turner, for that matter) has a greater every-man attractive appeal to me, Jamie/Sam seems a bit like a creature that might have been chemically designed in a Harlequin romance lab. (PS, let’s take a field trip there.)

…and one who cleans up nice.

Anne: Oh, Ross…I’d synchronize swim with you any day. I am more into the less demure swim style of Ross here. The man lets it all hang out and I am loving it. Sorry, Jamie.

Denise: This has been a topic of discussion around the Outlander Cast Blog. I understand it was cold, but the one hand? It has me baffled. Having said that, I’m thinking the lagoon that Ross has found would be a little more conducive to bathing.

Janet: In theory, I should vote for naked Jamie… but I have to say this was a period when Sam seemed to be going overboard in the workout arena. This chest is just too big, especially when you compare it to… well, when you compare it to. (see Denise’s comment on hands.)

Ashley: Is it possible to frolic in water? If so, I’ll volunteer to frolic with Ross in a Cornwall lagoon like it’s my full-time job.

Okay FINE, suit yourself. See what I did there?

Janet: Ross. The look. The color against his hair and eyes. The slightly disheveled look. Yes, I will go with you and I will go with you right now.

Anne: I have to go with Ross here. Navy blue on a man always gets me… plus the hair, the HAIR! Love Ross’ wild curls and set of jaw here.

Denise: YAY! Back to Jamie! This fine French jacket and that clean look just takes my breath away. It makes me want to know what he smells like, too. But that could be dicey in 18th Century France!

Ashley: I’m digging on Ross’ crushed velvet look, but fancy pants Jamie takes the French cake for me here.

There’s no place like home… but which one? Lallybroch vs. Nampara:

Janet: See, this is where my having seen the original Poldark and having read all the Poldark books (twice) makes this tough to actually choose. I’ve got the benefit of full experience with both… I can’t choose! Don’t make me!

Anne: Sigh. Take me home to LALLYBROCH! Besides, they have better servants there. Hello, Jack-of-All-Trades, Mrs. Crook!

Denise: Lallybroch, nuf said.

Ashley: I’m with Janet, why choose? I’ll take Lallybroch as my permanent residence and Nampara for a summer cottage. Splendid!

My man on a horse is here… and, also here:

Janet: I think Jamie is the better rider… and that’s all I’m going to say. Do with it what you will.

Anne: The knee porn is a tantalizer, but I have to go with Ross here. I never get tired of seeing him race across the tops of the cliffs of Cornwall. So brooding and intense. Just once, can I be the horse, please?

Denise: Ross always looks so intense when he’s on his horse. Jamie has a kilt and knee porn, so Jamie it is.

Ashley: I love watching Ross gallivant on his horse, but it seems to have a method-of-transportation-only value to me. However, much like Jamie told Claire in “Lallybroch”, I first fell for the King of Men when he wrapped Claire in his tartan and saddled up next to her on that long ride to Castle Leoch. Talk about your welcome wagon.

The battle of the man bun:

Janet: Man buns are dumb. I don’t care who wears them. I want to rip out both their scrunchies or whatever it is that’s holding their hair in this ridiculous hairdo.

Anne: Sorry, Aidan. The “high, messy pony” (I wouldn’t even call it a bun) is a major turn off. I mean — I want to ride your pony, Aidan, not play with my little pony. Stylist fail. But, Sam’s man bun is on fleek and the clean-shaven look puts the emphasis on his gorgeous face, which is always welcome. Sam for the win.

Denise: Aiden, there’s something about the combination of the impish grin (ala Kili) with the massive amounts of facial hair that just shakes me the wrong way. Sam, on the other hand looks like he is ready to whisper sweet nothings as he lets down his locks.

Ashley: Oh sure, I throw my hair up in a sloppy ponytail because that’s real life and it’s viewed as “rough day?”, but these guys do it and it’s fashion? Puh-leeze. I want to vote neither, while still understanding it’s a necessary evil for an actor-in-production. But if forced, I pick Aidan because the scruffy face sells it better.

No cue needed, or appropriate:

Janet: Really, when you analyze why we “fall” for these men on TV, it’s because of moments like these. Yes, we all want the bad boy moments or the King of Men moments, but what makes a man really sexy? When he allows himself to be vulnerable. They both win here for me.

Anne: I know it wasn’t really Jamie’s fault that he was in the Bastille while Claire was grieving the loss of Faith. But, Ross really manned up and took care of things when Julia died despite his own grief. Ross deserves all the props for being a pillar of strength and support for Demelza and all around him that grieved the loss of that sweet little girl. Heartbreaking scenes for both, though.

Denise: I cannot with good conscience choose either of these scenes as better or worse. My heart aches just looking at these pictures. But Claire’s veil is probably one of my favorite things she wore all of Season 2.

Ashley: Maybe it’s because, as an Outlander book reader, I knew what was coming in the Faith story line and had attempted to ready myself. Maybe it’s because it’s easier to relate — as a woman and a mother — to Outlander’s story line, but cathartic to see this type of loss and vulnerability squarely from a male’s perspective, as it was in Poldark. I can’t put my finger on the “why” with any certainty, but Poldark pulled the rug out from underneath me and shred my heart with these episodes and I still haven’t fully recovered from the shock.

We love thee… but we love thee more:

Janet: Not even debatable. Jamie and Claire. I mean just look at them. Come the f@$k on!

Anne: The FRASERS. #RelationshipGoals. A more perfect couple could never be found. Equals in life and love. Both flawed, but fiercely loyal to each other and those they care for. Ross and Demelza may get there, but not yet. The Frasers can’t be beat.

Denise: I have invested more time, energy and emotion in Claire and Jamie. They have stood the test of time and, time again. While I love Ross and Demelza together, it is still too early for me to choose them. So the Frasers have it.

Ashley: The Frasers for the win — all day, every day and twice on new-episode Saturday.

Ahh, that felt good to get it all out. Thanks for listening. The silver lining? We can love both… because in #Droughtlander, we find a thirst quencher in Ross and Demelza, and out of #Poldarkness, we will finally get the light of Outlander Season 3!

*This post first appeared on the Outlander Cast Blog.