The Netflix Original Series ‘Bridgerton’, which released Dec. 25 last year, has had a fair share of praise and backlash from viewers since it dropped. Though not without potential, ‘Bridgerton’ could also really benefit from some perspective should a second season be in the works.
‘Bridgerton’ is the first of a purported eight projects between Netflix and Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes. Based on the novel series of the same name, ‘Bridgerton’ centers the affluent Bridgerton family and their lives in nineteenth century London. Though there are a lot of different plot threads throughout this season, the main storyline follows the Bridgertons’ eldest daughter, Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), as she develops a romantic relationship with the latest Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page).
On a production level, ‘Bridgerton’ is wonderful. It’s easy to get lost in the high society world our characters navigate, especially during the extravagant balls throughout. This portrayal of the Regency Era of England is decked out in brightly colored dresses, shiny jewelry and lush gardens, putting its alleged six million-per-episode budget to good use.
The acting, too, was also great across the board. A definite highlight of the season was Regé-Jean Page’s Simon. Page was engaging whenever he came on screen, using an equal amount of charm and wit to bring Simon to life. I also really enjoyed Claudia Jessie as Eloise, who had a particularly fun subplot trying to figure out the identity of gossip columnist Lady Whistledown.
Writing-wise, ‘Bridgerton’ worked best while playing with conventions of the romance genre. My initial interest in Daphne and Simon as a couple came with their openness with one another. They addressed each other as equals immediately and spoke often about “taboo” subjects like sexuality and abuse. This decidedly modern spin on their dynamic kept me engaged, and I enjoyed ‘Bridgerton’ a lot while Simon and Daphne were still courting. Their conversations while on chaperoned walks or at parties gave a dimension of believability to their chemistry.
That said, this is also where ‘Bridgerton’ hits a major snag: its social commentary. Though lead writer Chris Van Dusen believes the show “[marrys] history and fantasy in a really exciting, fascinating way”, he has yet to put his money where his mouth is. Many point to ‘Bridgerton’s’ lack of nuance in its portrayal of race and interracial relationships as proof, considering its initial marketing campaign played up its non-white representation a lot.
“[That] the showrunner says he wanted to make race a part of this world though he absolutely did not is frustrating,” Kathleen Newman-Bremang said in a discussion about race and ‘Bridgerton’ to Refinery29’s Unbothered. “It felt like they gave a little tease just to say that they did it. If the writers read this, they might be like, ‘But we did acknowledge it!’”
This is also the case for other sensitive topics ‘Bridgerton’ attempts to tackle, such as consent. A major point of contention between Daphne and Simon is whether or not to have children. Daphne has wanted to be a mother for years, but Simon, due in part to a traumatic relationship with his father, does not want any kids. This conflict comes to a head in the show’s most infamous sex scene, where Daphne prevents Simon from pulling out in an attempt to get pregnant.
For a show that banks on its more modern sentiments being applied to this setting, ‘Bridgerton’ completely overlooks the ramifications of this scene. The show wants the audience to still sympathize with Daphne over the final two episodes as her relationship with Simon threatens to unravel completely, never once closely examining Simon’s understandable feelings of anger and betrayal over what happened.
Considering what I like initially about the couple, I still have no idea why they decided to go this route. It’s a gross scene with even grosser pay-off, in that there is no pay-off at all.
If there is a second season of ‘Bridgerton’ in the works, my only hope is that the creators learn from the mistakes of the first season while going into the second. There are definitely good aspects to ‘Bridgerton’, but its writing issues could make the show collapse in on itself if persistent moving forward.