In 2018, it was announced that a new show was in the works with Shondaland; Shonda Rimes’ production company. It was to be a Netflix show based on a series of historical romance novels by Julia Quinn.
As an avid reader and someone who will read just about anything if they are making a show for it, I bought the first book.
Two years later, Bridgerton was released on Netflix on Christmas Day. Did I binge watch the entirety of it in less than a week? Yes. Yes, I did.
I, for one, cannot get enough period piece shows. The Great was incredible. The Queen’s Gambit was amazing. I am also a massive fan of shows like Outlander, Downton Abbey, Victoria, and The Crown.
So it was only natural that I devoured this show in a matter of days.
Shondaland shows like long running Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder tend to include romance, drama, diversity, controversy, and of course, sex. The new show, Bridgerton, is much of the same but with some pretty big differences.
Bridgerton is like Pride and Prejudice meets Gossip Girl. Centered around one large family, the Bridgertons, in Regency London, season one—like the first book—is all about the fourth eldest Bridgerton sibling, Daphne, and her coming out into society and finding love.
Any person who has watched a period piece knows that diversity is sometimes sorely lacking. But any Shonda Rhimes’ show watcher would know, she does not fall flat with diversifying her casts.
The male lead, both of the actors portraying his parents, the mother’s best friend, the Queen, the seamstress and many other characters are people of color and I, for one, loved it. It didn’t, in anyway, take me out of the period aspect of the show. This will have an enormous impact in Hollywood showing that casting diverse actors will no longer be considered a “risk.”
The diversity only improves the show.
I believe that this show with it’s rampant popularity will boost other shows similar to include a more diverse cast despite a possible historical inaccuracy.
Bridgerton does leave a bit more out in the open for discussion on the matter of diversity and racism. And it leads the viewer to wonder about the way the Duke’s father treated him as a child. Was Simon, the Duke of Hastings, treated poorly by his father only because of his inability to speak clearly as a child? Or could it be that his father knew, as a person of color, that there would always be a struggle, regardless of his speech impediment, to prove their worth in a society that is predominantly white?
Again, Bridgerton is a show that is not only feel good with its pop songs turned into classical music and colorful dresses but it also makes you think, and discuss the different more controversial aspects of the show.
As a long time watcher of Grey’s Anatomy, I expected a lot of romance, some unrequited love, and a whole lot of drama. It’s safe to say, I was not disappointed.
As a person who read the first book, knowing it leaned towards the smut side of romance, I was interested to see how they would portray sex scenes to viewers.
With the 2005 Pride and Prejudice now on Netflix, people are again finding their love of period pieces. And more and more are combating the typical Austen held-at-a-distance-romance where the iconic hand-clench by Matthew Macfadyen’s Darcy is as sexual as it gets! But Bridgerton takes sex to a new level.
The sex scenes are already risqué because of the time period. Skin on skin contact without a pair of gloves was indecent! This show is also in the “female’s gaze”. Instead of heaving bosoms, which is quite common in period pieces, and naked female bodies, we see the male lead pushing up the sleeves of his shirt to reveal muscled forearms. We see him sensually licking a spoon. We see shirtless male actors boxing. We see more than one bare ass from the male actors. To which Jane Austen would have been appalled!
Not only that but the sex scenes are very female driven, the male actors are seen asking what the females would like them to do in terms of sex, where to touch and what feels good, rather than taking control and going at it like wild dogs.
And though sex is a main plot point, discussions on it are lacking. The two eldest Bridgerton sisters are completely clueless when it comes to sex. When one character is revealed to be pregnant, one sister is beyond perplexed. She doesn’t even know how one gets pregnant. While the other is practically thrown into sex without knowing the odds and ends of it.
Any Shondaland show watcher would know, controversial topics are these writer’s favorites. With the newest season of Greys Anatomy focusing entirely on the Covid-19 pandemic with some child sex-trafficking thrown in the mix, Bridgerton has already been the subject of controversy.
Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t watched season one, episode six, you’re in for some spoilers.
*Trigger Warning for Sexual Assault.*
Daphne and Simon, the main characters of season one, are wed. They are happily married and deep in the honeymoon phase and having quite a bit of sex, despite Daphne desperately wanting children and Simon claiming he is unable to have children. The viewers know that he only does not want children, and this is obvious in the fact that he leaps off of Daphne every time he climaxes so as not to “spill his seed inside of her”.
This leads to Daphne figuring out he is lying to her. She proceeds to test her theory and without consent, forces him to you-know-what in you-know-where rather than on the quilts beside them.
This has brought about a lot of controversy. Viewers are not entirely happy with this sexual act or some say assault.
And yes, this scene was a bit disturbing, as a viewer who knows what she is doing is wrong. But who is truly at fault in this situation? Newly married Daphne has only just learned that marriage, leads to sex, which leads to babies. Her being wholly uneducated in the act of sex and consent led her to act with her wants and desires. She wanted a child, she did what she knew was necessary to get one.
The point is not whether it was wrong or justified. Obviously, it was wrong of Daphne to do this. The point, I believe, is to get people to discuss the controversial topic. Is what Daphne did unforgivable? Was it not wrong of Simon to lie outright to the woman he was to marry? Would the show have been better if they left this particular scene out? Should they have explained everything about the matter in a bit more detail? The controversy brings people to the show, which is exactly what the show runners want.
In conclusion, this show is a perfect example of a Shondaland production and even breaks barriers that other Rhimes’ shows have, like nudity and profanity. The show is not only an enjoyable romance with its humor and mash-up of modern meets regency, but it also brings to light the importance of certain topics like sex, consent, race, disabilities, gender norms, and many others. This is Not-Your-Mother’s-Period-
So now what? You’ve binge watched Bridgerton, Netflix removed Pride and Prejudice, no new seasons of Outlander or The Great any time soon. What can you do to keep the period piece love alive? Read the other eight books of the Bridgerton series of course! Each book follows a new Bridgerton sibling through life and love.