Bridgerton is now one of Netflix's most watched shows ever. Aoife Rooney asks if it deserves the hype
Period drama series Bridgerton was first released on Christmas day 2020, and four weeks on from its release is projected to have been consumed by over 63 million households, making it the most-watched original series released by the platform. The Regency-era drama has not proved to be too divisive on social media, with the overwhelming response of the masses proving indicative of the record the show has surpassed. The show, created by Chris Van Dusen, is also the first show to air as a part of an 11-project deal between Netflix and Shonda Rimes, with her production company Shondaland being heavily involved. It is based upon the novel ‘The Duke and I’ by Julia Quinn, the first in an 8-book series.
The series follows the Bridgerton family, which consists of the widowed matriarch, Lady Violet Bridgerton and her eight children: four girls and four boys in 1813 London at the start of the coming-out or marriage season. Daphne Bridgerton, the eldest daughter in the family, is named the seasons ‘incomparable’ in the show’s first episode, marking her as the most eligible young woman.
The drama of the show is carried in large part by the mysterious Lady Whistledown, who publishes society papers detailing the misdoings of the London society elite. The role is voiced by Julie Andrews and is where the many Gossip Girl comparisons prominent in the online discourse came from. The season primarily deals with Daphne’s search for a husband, and her subsequent relationship with Simon Basset, the Duke of Hastings. Secondary plotlines deal with Eloise Bridgerton’s search for the person behind the Whistledown papers and the older Bridgerton brothers’ respective romantic endeavours. Its themes and focuses include topics like gender and societal expectations as well as feminism, consent and race.
I think that the series hit a particular spot for so many viewers because it breathed an air of both nostalgia and newness into a time in film and television where a lot of what is being consumed is either contemporarily set or a reboot. Bridgerton is different in the sense that the story is unique and fresh enough to hold viewers prolonged attention, but also has a real sense of sentimentality to it that makes the viewer feel as though it is not an entirely new world they are embarking upon, but one that is familiar to them. This can be attributed to many factors, including the era that is represented in the series. The period-style brings a familiarity to viewers, with films such as the recent reboot of Jane Austen's Emma (2020) also based in the same time. However, there are also factors that catapult the series straight into the 21st century, particularly the soundtrack, which features string quartet covers of popular hits and contemporary tracks such as Billie Eilish’s ‘bad guy’ and ‘Girls Like You’ by Maroon 5.
The comparison to the 2000s hit Gossip Girl is appropriate. It too famously features an anonymous narrator who somehow has access to information that many of the characters do not. It also centres its attention on the elite in society. Throughout many discussions on social media about the various similarities between the two shows, many rightly concluded that Bridgerton has a bit more heart than Gossip Girl, and while it is still early days for the show, it has clearly quenched a thirst for this type of programme if numbers are anything to go by.
The series deals with themes like feminism and agency potently. Showing the many different lifestyles of the women in the show, the final episode portrays how many of them have taken steps towards orchestrating their own happiness, often getting out from under the thumb of some of the chauvinistic men in their lives. It also does an excellent job at incorporating Black actors into the show without making it a tired plot point or a question of attempting to ‘not see race’, when people of colour would have undoubtedly faced discrimination some two hundred years ago.
Bridgerton does a remarkable job at combining the 19th and 21st centuries, and in doing so, shows how many of the problems being faced within our social structures and groups are universal and not unique to today’s society. The show is unquestionably worth watching, and with season two on the way it is worth getting on to season one now.