If you spend any time on the internet, you’ve noticed that everyone is talking about Bridgerton, the Regency-era Netflix series based on the best-selling novels by Julia Quinn. Executive produced by Shonda Rhimes, the show is just as soapy and sexy as one would expect, following young Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) as she makes her debut in London society.
At her first presentation, Daphne is quickly singled out by Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) and later, by the mysterious author of the town’s new and instantly popular gossip rag, Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews), as the season’s “incomparable” debutante.
I’m sure you can guess what comes next: drama, gossip, scandal, love. Throughout the season, Daphne Bridgerton is the benevolent prom queen of society, whose only flaw is her own naivete and whose biggest problem is that she wants the emotionally unavailable Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), whom she obviously eventually gets. (Been there, minus the getting him part.)
Needless to say, I watched the whole first season in a day. Still, I’m left wondering… is Bridgerton really that good or is everyone just bored, horny, and desperate for new content after their millionth rewatch of The Office?
For me, there was never a question of whether or not I would watch this show. If we’ve got ballrooms and tea parties and mention of “lands and titles”, I’m all over it. And so are my mom and grandma. The difference here is that, for once, so was everyone else.
Maybe I’ve just been teased one too many times for being obsessed with period shows, but when this one shot up to number one on Netflix and was trending on Twitter, I was caught off-guard. Like, oh, now y’all are interested in a dowager viscountess trying to marry off her eldest daughter? Wow… I mean, welcome, but I’ve been about this life. So, when it comes to Bridgerton, what got everyone so excited about this particular period piece?
The release date definitely factored into the show’s popularity. The show debuted on December 25, 2020 in the throes of covid winter, on a lonelier-than-usual Christmas. Of course, with nothing to do but devour anything the TV gods throw into our zoo enclosure, we ate it up.
But I would be remiss to claim that the masses are enjoying this show simply because of how desperate we are for new TV. We’re not just longing for any kind of TV. Now more than ever, the culture is thirsty for beauty and fairytales, and Bridgerton definitely delivers in that department. Each episode is a silk-laden, candle-lit tour through heavily draped salons, opera houses, and ballrooms. While I’m wearing the same oversized sweats I’ve been in since March of last year, the ladies of Bridgerton are always being fitted for gowns to wear to the decadent parties we ourselves can only wish to attend.
While still set in Regency England, Bridgerton takes place in Shonda Rhimes’ Regency England. That distinction is important. Shonda feeds us what she knows best on a silver spoon. From Scandal to Grey’s Anatomy, she’s got the whole “We can’t be together because I’m damaged and unavailable and also what would society think?? Also we are both sooo sexy” genre down pat. Shonda was born to create a period piece for the contemporary era.
Sure, we get the same thrill of seeing a brooding man in a poofy blouse that all other Austen-esque screen adaptations promise to provide, but Bridgerton has its modern twists. For one, Daphne’s love interest, The Duke of Hastings, is Black, as is Queen Charlotte. While some historians believe the real Queen Charlotte had African ancestry, her reign certainly did not usher an era of racial equality into court as is represented in Bridgerton. Still, while producers have repeatedly enforced homogeneity in casting in the name of historical accuracy, Bridgerton will surely set an example for how diversity helps rather than hurts a historical drama.
What else do we get that other period dramas leave us wanting? Sex. And lots of it. I love a BBC miniseries as much as the next gal, but what those shows usually lack in boning, Bridgerton provides. Daphne Bridgerton, who starts out as the virginest virgin to ever virgin, goes from never-been-kissed to getting pounded out in a library quuuuuuick. And you know what? I love that for her. I may be single and typing this next to a body pillow, but I do. I love that for her.
Okay, so the show is pretty, sexy, and uniquely diverse for a period drama. It came into our lives when we needed it most. But is it good? Well, honestly, I could answer that question with another question: does it really matter?
For a second we got to sit at a big table that Shonda set. Was she serving anything completely new to us? Maybe not, but the dishes were familiar, the place settings were gorgeous, and I went home full. And that was plenty.
Images: Liam Daniel / Netlfix; Giphy (2)