Bridgerton and Shondaland are a match made in Romancelandia heaven. Shonda Rhimes’ studio which has brought us such massive hits as Grey’s Anatomy was exactly the right studio to bring author Julia Quinn’s wildly popular series to life. While Grey’s formula for success has remained unchanged over the years, they have managed to push the envelope over time and they never fail to crank up the heat as far as network television will allow. Bringing Quinn’s series to Netflix affords Shondaland a chance to remove the restraints of network television and find creative ways to tell the story of people navigating the restraints of high society in this fictional 19th-century landscape.
Bridgerton creator Chris Van Dusen clearly understands what the fans want. Very few are longing for a word for word recreation of Quinn’s series. They want a series that delivers all manners of romantic tropes in the most steamy, sizzling, and sensual manner possible. Where it becomes a bit tricky is framing these in a well-written manner that’s faithful to the universe Quinn created. There’s a distinct difference between a storyline involving “fake dating” and one which is well crafted. Van Dusen exceeds those lofty expectations and opens up this world to new possibilities.
The series follows the exploits of the Bridgerton family. Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) enters London’s social season, determined to find a good match. Over the first season, we are introduced to a collection of colorful characters who make up high society. The Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) whose abs have almost as screentime as he does, Daphne’s oldest brother Anthony (Johnathan Bailey) who is having trouble balancing family obligations and an opera singer mistress, their younger sister Eloise (Claudia Jessie) who shows little interest in conforming to societal norms, and who could forget the Featherington’s who are in many ways the polar opposite of the Bridgerton’s. Mama Featherington (Polly Walker) preoccupies herself with attempting to find a suitable match for her three daughters. We are introduced to new characters in Quinn’s universe. Miss Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker), is a farm girl who moves in with the Featherington’s seeking to marry well before her secret is revealed. Thompson’s presence allows the show’s creator Chris Van Dusen to delve into new subject matters on top of complicating a fairly well-known storyline. Of course, no Bridgerton series would be complete without the gossip and tawdry musings of one Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews). For those who have read the series and are wondering if her identity is revealed, it is, and to avoid Whistledown’s rath, that’s all I’ll say at the moment.
Part of what makes the Bridgerton series work so well and remain for the most part faithful to its source material is how nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Just when we think that we are building towards a classic romantic moment, out of nowhere comes a twist that causes your head to spin. If only this series were just a simple rivals-to-lovers narrative. Dynevor and Page’s intense chemistry is what energizes this entire series. Nothing between these two ever feels forced. There are no confessions of love in raging storms or proclamations of someone having the other at hello. Quinn’s magic comes from understanding that love more often than not is messy. In fact, most of the first season isn’t about how they met one another but how they survived each other and became closer.
Van Dusen understood how important the social scene as it pertained to navigating the trials and tribulations of 19th-century romance. Getting married was rarely about love and more about setting a young woman up for a life free of scandal. If the suitor was well off, then all the better. Eloise might not see the need for a man but she can’t deny the necessity for one which is why we find her preparing for next year’s social season towards the end of season one. She might not enjoy it, but Daphne’s sister will too have to play the game.
Bridgerton offers all the pomp of a ball, the steaminess of a one-night stand with a rake, and the beauty of true love wrapped into a well-written series that understands the balance between tropes and happily ever after.
Bridgerton‘s first season drops globally on Netflix December 25.
Image courtesy of Liam Daniel/Netflix