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Bridgerton: Season One

What can I say about Bridgerton?

Well, it is extremely pretty. World class pretty, even. The lead actors, the sets, the costumes, all stunning – so much so that the show doesn't feel real. There's a strong fantasy element to Bridgerton, as if it exists in a parallel universe. It's like a beautifully decorated, sparkling cookie that tastes good, even though it's not like other cookies.

And I know that didn't actually explain anything. I'll try again. (I will not include spoilers.)

Bridgerton is a Shondaland interpretation by creator Chris Van Dusen of a twenty-year-old romance novel by Julia Quinn. I was halfway through the first episode when I realized that I'd actually read the book some years ago. What sparked my memory was that the names of the eight Bridgerton siblings are in alphabetical order, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, Hyacinth. I also remembered Lady Whistledown's gossip sheet, a clever framing device for each chapter.

The plot is standard regency. In 1813, a beautiful young upper class woman enters society in search of the perfect husband. Here, it's Daphne (Phoebe Dyvenor), fourth-born Bridgerton and the eldest girl. Daphne's brother Anthony is the head of the household and so overprotective that he sabotages Daphne's romantic prospects.

In desperation, Daphne strikes a deal with Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), who is an impossibility – an actual duke who is young, single, gorgeous and kind, and is also trying desperately to avoid the deluge of ambitious mamas and vamping debs that are pursuing him with matrimonial intentions. Daphne and Simon agree that they will fake interest in each other to increase male interest in Daphne and provide cover for Simon. Of course, you know from the beginning what will happen next, since romance novels aren't known for their subtlety.

Bridgerton gets points for centering its major romantic plotlines around the adult repercussions of childhood trauma, complicated issues of consent, and how damaging it was to keep young girls completely ignorant of the facts of life. The two leads, Dyvenor and Page, are wonderful to watch, and there are several characters I like – particularly fifth Bridgerton sibling Eloise, who was obsessed with discovering the identity of Lady Whistledown, and her best friend, Penelope Featherington, whose mother chose to inflict dire crimes of fashion on her three daughters. I also particularly liked Simon's ally, Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh), with her dry wit, emotional support and practical advice.

Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan)
and Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie)

I also liked the unexpected racial diversity à la Hamilton. It made this regency romance more interesting and quasi-modern, although it often felt odd when contrasted with the homophobia and sexism. (It was explained in one line – that there were once two separate societies that came together when the King, from one, married Queen Charlotte, from another. I don't suppose it needed to be explained, since it ceased to matter fairly early on.)

But the lack of racism still felt odd when the plots still reflected the restricted life situations of women in 1813: the unfortunate Marina Thompson, pregnant and unmarried; Anthony's obsession with an opera singer that he could never marry; the flashback to the matter-of-fact death of Simon's mother in childbirth caused by the Duke's obsessive need for a son. Frustrating. Plus, it jumped out at me that the heroic Black characters were lighter in color. Simon's evil father was the blackest character in every sense. Why commit to a racially diverse story if you're going to do that?

I assume there will be a second season, and there's even source material: there are eight Bridgerton books, one for each of the siblings. Will they actually try for seven more seasons? Can it work without Dyvenor and Page in the lead? I did watch all of this season and I loved Eloise, although the three eldest Bridgerton brothers didn't interest me much. And I don't really relate to a world of grand balls, beautiful frocks, and scandals.

And while the Lady Whistledown reveal was great fun, they left the most important question unanswered. What ever happened to Prince Frederick's necklace?
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

9 comments:

sunbunny said...

I loved it and I really really didn't like it at the same time.

I totally agree Billie that the "black dukes in Regency England!" thing was cool but it really seemed weird when held up, for instance, against the homosexual love affair that must be kept secret at all costs. Also, it would have been cool to include more races. I had a dream that Sandra Oh was in this and that would have been really fun.

For those curious, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz aka Bridgerton's Queen *may* *MAY* have been biracial irl. There is some evidence, however shaky it seems. I remember reading about it when Meghan Markle and Prince Harry got engaged.

I doubt the show will get more than a few seasons as that's Netflix's pattern, but I look forward to seeing more of Penelope and Eloise and Benedict and Colin in a potential second or third.

I hope Julie Andrews had fun being the voice of Lady Whistledown. She's an international treasure.

Josie Kafka said...

I watched a few episodes of this, and while I didn't love it, I do plan to return to it at some point. It was pretty and funny and charming.

I used to watch Grey's Anatomy, years and years ago, before the level of soap-operaness just did me in. (Everybody had slept with everybody else! It was too much!) I wonder if this show would fall into that same trap, or if having the books to rely on would help it stay focused.

Billie Doux said...

I seem to have a breaking point with everything Shonda-related, where the plot convolutions twisting in on themselves just stop working for me and I can't watch anymore.

Anonymous said...

I too have a breaking point with Shonda's series, but for me, it's when they turn so completely dark. She seems to get into a bit of a "dark and twisty" rut. That said, due to the source material and the general subject of this series, I'm hopeful that won't happen. I found it engaging and charming. At the same time, I was horrified to remember how very little control women had over their own lives at one point in history. I will absolutely continue to watch though and am hopeful for a 2nd season. (And can I just ask...where has Regé-Jean Page been hiding???!!!)

Katie Hart - Pinterest Manager said...

I've avoided Shonda Rhimes shows up to this point, so I was planning to give this a pass as well, until it kept getting rave reviews. I was looking for a fun new show and I have very few historical shows I'm watching currently. It seemed like something that would fill a bit of an Outlander and Poldark gap, and the fact that it's based on a book series I hoped would make it a bit Shondaland-lite.

What sealed the deal was the fact that the stories center around a family of 8 children. I'm the oldest of 9 myself, and there aren't many stories out there that celebrate large families, especially when making the transition to movies/TV shows. Siblings are combined or dropped. The most you can usually hope for is 4-5 siblings, like Little Women and Pride and Prejudice.

I liked the first episode, enough to keep watching, but it was the second that truly hooked me. I watched the final 7 episodes in 2 evenings.

I agree that it was a bit fantasy-like, though thankfully dealing with actual issues instead of focusing solely on the romance. Not nearly as dark as Outlander, a bit closer to Poldark.

I almost want to rewatch the entire thing, knowing who Lady Whistledown is.

Valkyrie30 said...

I haven’t watched this show but after your review I am intrigued! I may have to give it a go! What network does it air on?

Billie Doux said...

Valkyrie, it's on Netflix.

Billie Doux said...

Bridgerton just got a second season, with hints that the main character this time will be Anthony.

https://tvline.com/2021/01/21/bridgerton-renewed-season-2-netflix-book-2/

Red Pearl said...

I fast-forwarded two episodes and gave up. It's not even the casting. The scenery is pretty enough. But I suppose I was expecting something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice but got cheap regency romance instead.