I won’t lie. When Bridgerton dropped in December 2020, I was meh. I’m not a particular fan of the genre, no matter the century (I am more of a drama or “com with just a dash of rom” reader), and I had never heard of bestselling historical romance author Julia Quinn.
I did know Shonda Rhimes, of course, but the tipping point for me was Nicola Coughlan, from the exceptional series Derry Girls. LOVE. So, I gave it a looksee.
What I saw was unexpected and engaging, and not just to me. Bridgerton is currently the only series to hold both first and second place on the Netflix most popular English language TV list.
Here are 3 reasons why I think Bridgerton deserves its Netflix crown:
“There was a brand that I specifically created for ABC. It has some hallmarks, and one of them is fierce, incredibly successful career women.”—Shonda Rhimes
The one time queen of ABC’s Thursday night lineup, with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, Shonda is continuing her showrunning reign on Netflix. Her OG deal of 100 million signed in 2017 has now been renegotiated into the 3-4 hundred million range. All because of Bridgerton.
Remember, this genre still gets no respect in publishing, despite over a billion dollars in yearly sales, where it’s seen as: basic formula + competent writer = romance novel. Rinse and repeat. Of course, this disdain is also for its female audience, 46% of whom read a book a WEEK.
So. Much. Opportunity.
Add this to the gender imbalance on screen because of the old excuse “people won’t pay to see movies about women” (cough cough Bridesmaids cough cough The Devil Wears Prada and Wonder Woman cough cough COUGH…) and you get the idea.
Fortunately, Shonda gives zero forks about conventional wisdom or common paths, especially after stumbling onto Ms. Quinn’s series when she ran out of reading material on holiday.
Instead, with creator Chris Van Dusen and longtime producing partner Betsy Beers, she has brought an incredibly popular narrative to gorgeous life – The costumes! The sets! The ACTORS! – and the numbers do not lie. Go, Shonda!
But what’s even more heartening is the feminist gaze applied to an often traditional category.
“You have no idea what it is to be a woman, what it might feel like to have one’s entire life reduced to a single moment.”—Daphne Bridgerton
But we find out.
The women of the Bridgerton world are not just corseted chess pieces in a society that cares only for your name and reputation. They have their own desires, ambitions and will – Lady Whistledown, anyone? They operate stealthily but steadily, and it’s a joy to know then and now – women rule.
“I yearn for someone fresh, someone unexpected, to turn this season on its head. That is what we need. There is no room for indifference. Apathy is a blight the monarchy simply cannot endure.”—Queen Charlotte
How cool is it to be immersed in 1813 London with color blind casting?
Honestly, it was the first thing that struck me when I began the series and it never got old. Just literally seeing it differently made me realize how we accept the usual homogeneity in media without noticing, and how original and appealing a global reflection is instead.
Of course, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Shonda Rhimes has always led the industry in terms of race and gender inclusion and diversity. She has always written and cast without predetermining a character’s race or sexuality and kept this principle with Bridgerton. This is not a marketing ploy, this is a longstanding choice.
Did it really look like this in Regency London? No. Does it matter? No. Shonda, Betsy and Chris have conceived their own version, and it stands as an example of empowerment – to viewers, to other creators – of what going against the status quo can look like, on your TV and in the ratings.
Turning a costume drama on its head with modern and relatable facets to each arc is why this team is now working on seasons 3 and 4, fyi.
“Penelope: Mama, might I go play with Eloise?
Lady Featherington: A lady does not play, Penelope.
Penelope: Forgive me, Mama. Might I go promenade for suitors with Eloise?
Lady Featherington: Very well, then.”
While some may be enamoured by the Fifty Shades of Daphne and the Duke season one vibe and others prefer the visibly heaving bosom of Kate Sharma in season two, many viewers are #peneloise all the way, and I am absolutely one of them!
BFFs that live across the street from each other, Penelope Featherington and Eloise Bridgerton are the self-absorbed, awkward, joined at the elbow length glove teens of the show. One a dreamer, the other a rebel, they can’t wait to dish on every little thing; if Peneloise hasn’t dissected it, has it really happened?
Pen’s unflattering wardrobe and Eloise’s frustration at the constraints of being a female are constant convos. As the convoluted machinations of the ton swirl unheeded around them, they focus on truly important matters:
“Eloise: How did she become with child if she is not married?
Penelope: I do not know, but I will find out.
Eloise: You must. Otherwise, how can we make sure it never happens to us? We have accomplishments to acquire.”
Even as their relationship becomes more complicated, you never doubt their sincere attachment to each other. Celebrating female friendships, no matter the century, is a must-watch for me.
You don’t have to have a soft spot for romance or be passionate about historical courtship to enjoy Bridgerton. If you’re not sure, come for the curiosity factor. Stay for the current social commentary in glorious Regency costumes. Revel in the accomplishment that Shonda Rhimes and her squad have achieved and how they’ve achieved it.
Ps HUGE BREAKING NEWS: Season 3 is about Polin – Penelope and her longtime secret love, Colin… Eloise’s brother!
Are you a Bridgerton fan? Have you read the books, or did you go in blind, like I did? Which season was your favourite? Which character? How do you feel about the casting? And how do you feel about PenEloise?