Earnest as it is elegant, the regal riot that is Bridgerton is romance in its pure, heightened form, which will have you addicted.
For better or for worse, anything smeared with the syrupy weight of swoon-worthy romance is often waylaid for something not to be taken seriously. Now, this doesn’t in any way discount its value of entertainment, which by the accounts of book sales, box office returns, and streaming view counts, is almost always a soaring success. But even despite its commercial triumphs, the shameless delight in it has to be coddled by hushed conversations or prefaced as guilty pleasures. For all its titillating tropes, farfetched formulas, and often off-putting optimism, there is a lot to derive from the realm of romance than just drivel and derivatives, especially when it is turned on its head or twisted just enough to keep you hooked on what happens next.
Bridgerton is a story of romance in its purest and most essential. Set in Regency Era London, there is no denying that for all its worth—flaws and all, of course—l’amour binds this hotly anticipated and deliciously addicting series like a deliriously tightened corset that were all the rage back then. From the machinations of Shondaland and its queen supreme, Shonda Rhimes, the adaptation of the beloved work of romantic fiction by Julia Quinn made its dazzling debut on Netflix on Christmas day to the same amount of fired up whispers and furtive glances that Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers would get from the high society of its times. (A wink of warmth to the pearl-clutching scandals of society, Lady Whistledown is voiced to grand, gossiping, and graceful perfection by an actual Dame herself, Julie Andrews.) Salacious, sensual, and scintillating as its omnipresent character, Bridgerton is pure pomp and romp that is worthy of your undivided attention. But despite its obvious decadence and predilection for gossip, scandal, and drama (which there are lots to go by on its nearly hour-long eight episode run in the first season), there is enough depth and deftness to air out what becomes of tired and typical period pieces.
Taking itself seriously, especially on its female-empowered premise of subverting traditions of sex, politics, and relationships from right under the nose of a bored patriarchy, the regal and riotous Bridgerton doesn’t present itself as a rewrite or revision of history, but rather a reimagined reclamation of possibilities as orchestrated by its creator, Chris Van Dusen, and its immensely talented pool of rising young women writers with the likes of Abby McDonald, Janet Lim, Sarah Dollard, and Joy C. Mitchell. Here, enough liberties are exercised to expand the worlds that the families of Bridgerton and Featherington, as well as of the pivotal royal connections, run circles in. Instead of a dark and brooding telling, we get a buoyant and witty exchange that sees a circumstance of color in the couture (7500 pieces, 238 team members, and 5 months of work), cinematography, and even the characters, much like the irreverence of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Tony McNamara’s The Great. As is standard in the world of Shonda Rhimes, the casting is not only brilliant and inspired, but also diverse. More telling of the history it takes inspiration from, Bridgerton skips the dull and dreary whitewashing and bolsters the narrative with a definitive chutzpah that sees the series through. A black queen lording over the affairs of the matchmaking season? Yes, please.
Now, Bridgerton isn’t perfect by all means. In fact, for strokes and strides of success, it sidesteps with its periods of dragging dalliance and insufferable lead characters (Simon, Duke of Hastings and Daphne Bridgerton) that make the will-or-won’t-they signature of romance more painful than swoon-worthy. However, it shines the most with its interlacing of well-realized story arcs, the discussion of what is hard-hitting realities (premarital pregnancy, sexual assault, and the rigors of relationships), and its necessary anachronism (string symphony reworks of Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, and Taylor Swift anyone?), there is nothing to be guilty about Bridgerton—it is pure viewing pleasure that won’t make you stop. “These are just good stories about relationships, emotional politics, how you juggle duty, love, and lust,” details Executive Producer Betsy Beers in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. There is a lot of privilege tucked within, but this is a telling of people and what they’re truly passionate about. In fact, as is usual with really smart shows, it pulls the rug from underneath you and leaves you not only trying to make sense of things in the settle, but also wanting so much more.
With a sense of reckless abandon and penchant for what is true and real for the person, not necessarily of an adherence to reality, the elegant yet earnest exposition of Bridgerton becomes that binge-worthy fodder into something you truly want to sink your teeth into. Sure, this might make your most well meaning literature teacher or strict history professor furrow their brows, but hey, at least you’re paying attention and getting into the romance of it somehow. It all starts somewhere—and for a few hours (trust us, you will mindlessly pummel through in one sitting) this is where the obsession begins. Don’t you agree, Lady Whistledown?