Like Jane Austen novels, but with more rakes.
Since it’s debut in December 2020, Bridgerton has been a smashing success. In fact, according to Netflix it was their number one most watched show of all time (yes, including Stranger Things).
Regency-era romance hasn’t always been my preferred genre, despite that time I gave a rousing performance as Mr. Collins in a high school production of Pride and Prejudice. While I was intrigued by the attachment of Shonda Rhimes to the project and the seemingly race-blind casting, I approached this show with a large amount of skepticism.
Let me assure you, my expectations were well exceeded by a smart, witty, and at times, shall we say, naughty portrayal of classic period drama tropes that have been perfectly modernized for today’s audiences (with some notable exceptions which I’ll get to in a minute).
Meet the Bridgertons
The show focuses on two aristocratic families in London during Britain's Regency era, the Bridgertons, led by their widowed mother Violet who is looking to start marrying off her four daughters and four sons, and their neighbors the Featheringtons, whose three daughters have recently been joined by their secretly pregnant cousin, Marina.
Most of the show's drama centers around the eldest Bridgerton daughter, Daphne, as she courts a Duke named Simon. He doesn't plan to wed, have children, or settle down and their relationship is merely for optics, or so it seems. Her eldest brother, Anthony, is best friends with Simon but disapproves of Simon's reputation as a rake and doesn't want Daphne to be with him.
Daphne and Simon make an arrangement to continue to pretend to court each other so she can avoid a potential suitor her older brother wants her to marry. As the teen rom-com To All the Boys I've Loved Before demonstrated, fake romances rarely end up fake for long.
Sex, Scandals, and Suitors, Oh My!
What makes the series particularly fun is the gossipy vibe added to show by Julie Andrew's narration as Mrs. Whistledown, an anonymous writer for a local newsletter that focuses on London's social scene. She highlights the shows most scandalous aspects with the grace of a British grandmother.
Be aware- there is rather explicit sex in this show. So don't watch it with your kids around! The show feels like you're reading a romance novel that's pretty prose doesn't hinder it from getting to the really juicy parts.
The sexuality combined with occasional musical orchestrations of contemporary pop songs gives the show a larger than life feel. Like it's costumes it's gaudy, somewhat over the top, and a true feast for the eyes (looking at you Rene Jean-Page!).
One Side Note
A single complication in the fun is some of the very valid criticism that portraying a race-bind society during what was actually a violently racist period for people of color brings. That being said, the show actually does make an explanation for why this society is racially integrated. However, it seems like a sloppy and overly simplistic answer to the nuances of racism.
Like Hamilton before it, Bridgerton has inspired a number of thinkpieces online about this subject of race-blind casting during a racist time period. Many are worth checking out.
I'm aware that some people will be turned off or even offended by this aspect of the show, and their feelings are valid. For me, I choose to enjoy it while still being aware of the criticism over the show's potentially problematic aspects.
Bridgerton is a lush, indulgent drama that will hook you in with just the right amount of suspense and intrigue. It makes for a very promising start to Shonda Rhime's record-breaking partnership with Netflix.
While I remain highly disappointed that its male lead won't be returning for a second season, the concept of focusing on a different Bridgerton sibling each season should keep things fresh going forward.
Where to watch: Netflix
Best for: Fans of romance novels, thirsty soccer moms
Shall I Stream It? (Julie Andrews voice) You shall.