Thoughts on Netflix's Bridgerton S1

Posted on February 6, 2021 by Richard Goulter

I just finished watching Netflix’s “Bridgerton” series. I’d enjoyed reading the book series some time ago. The third book in the Bridgeron series was the first book I ever stayed up the whole night to read.

The Bridgerton series is a famous and well-loved series of romance novels by Julia Quinn, featuring the Bridgerton family. The author has a charming voice. Since the stories always end with a happy ending, they’re quite fun to read. I hope the popularity of the Netflix series (and the book series consisting of eight books) means more people get to share in on the fun of reading it.

I enjoyed watching through this first season on Netflix with my girlfriend. Yet.. I can’t quite enthusiastically recommend the show.

I’m not sure who the show was made for. The show has an ambivalent tone to it. Half of the content is sweet and romantic and silly and reliably steers towards a happy ending. The other half is dramatic and somewhat serious and bitter and grim and unromantic and doesn’t even land a happy ending. (This part is original, not coming from the books).
– I can understand people liking both of these things. I can’t understand why a story would be both at once.

The source story is quite sweet. I think the show would be better if it were just this part.
The heroine of this romance is Daphne Bridgerton, and the hero is a proud duke. They get together after complaining how awful it is to be so handsome and desired by everyone else. (This, uh, wasn’t my favourite book of the series). They fight because he really doesn’t want to have children (for proud, manly reasons), she is able to convince him that’s silly, and they live happily ever after.
– The adaptation of this is nice. The duke is played by Regé-Jean Page, who is very handsome.

This part was fun to watch with my girlfriend. At one point, the heroine is mad at the hero and doesn’t want to spent time with him. The heroine is later grumpy at the hero because he never spends time with her. When I pointed out this was a no-win situation for the guy, my girlfriend laughed and said that’s how girls are. (Another fun thing was to play nipple-spotting. We get to see the duke’s nipples all the time during sex scenes; but the duchess’ nipples are hidden even as she rides on top in the nude, thanks to some well placed hair).

The show features pop songs with classical arrangements. Like Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” or Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy”. These are much more fun when you’re familiar with the covered music. It’s fitting with the overall presentation. (It’s entertainment which isn’t aiming to faithfully reproduce history; but feel-good pop entertainment dressed up in old-timey clothes).

But the other half?

Well. I was curious to see how the adaptation would be handled.
It seems to be that recently, several popular entertainment series have been overbearingly progressive. Maybe the values isn’t so much of a problem; but the characters tend to be lame and unsophisticated, the writers’ intent bludgeoned into an audience not trusted to appreciate complexity.
– Here, Bridgerton avoids any of that in its romantic half. It’s dramatic half isn’t obnoxious in this way, either.

But I think this dramatic half drags the romantic half down, and mostly just pads out the runtime.

I think part of the problem is its ambivalent tone.
Half the time there’s this romance where the conflict is the guy doesn’t want to marry the woman he loves because of a vow he made against his long dead dad;
and the other half you have e.g. a proud boxer who’s wondering whether he should sacrifice his integrity and throw a match for a great sum of money, or whether he’ll be able to keep providing for his family with his boxing exhibitions in the long term, going from match to match as he grows old.

Other dramatic subplots involve, e.g.: - A side-character’s cousin is pregnant and unmarried; her lover is a solder who hasn’t replied to her letters. She must secure a marriage before her pre-marital pregnancy becomes clear, or else ruin the reputation of the family hosting her. - Daphne’s older brother Anthony has a lower-class opera singer as his mistress. He’s infatuated with this mistress (promising to protect her forever), but his mother chides him for maintaining the relationship. He breaks it off, but still is attracted to her. - etc.

None of these subplots end with a happy ending.

Which is dreary enough.
What exacerbates this is that it feels the writers like this lame dramatic half more than they like the sweet romantic half. – Frequently, characters in this dramatic half will speak their mind sincerely, without cliche. The viewer doesn’t need to suspend disbelief at all to sympathise with these characters.

One example moment in this part I didn’t like was with a subplot where Daphne’s sister Eloise is sleuthing out the identity of the anonymous Lady Whistledown. (Lady Whistledown is like the more recent Gossip Girl of the Gossip Girl series).
Eloise asks the head servant whether she’s the Gossip-Girl, and the servant replies impetuously with “I wouldn’t be working for you if I was earning that kind of money”.
– This feels like the writers want to complain about the rich and priviledged the main characters are; how there’s this huge inequality where servants miserably do work they’d otherwise not choose.
We’re supposed to like the main characters.

It may be that there’s no outright overbearing, lazy progressive preaching.
But.. some shows, if you look for it in the show, and compare the character’s identity (skin colour, sex, etc.), you won’t find significant correlation between what a character looks like and how capable the character is. Characters will be equally capable of good and bad deeds, of being helpful or antagonistic. The characters are all written respectfully.
Bridgerton … just isn’t one of those shows. But there’s nothing really stopping it from doing that.

That said. I was surprised the show included a part where the newly wed duchess unintentionally offends the townspeople. She was asked which of the three pigs at a festival should be slaughtered. Aghast at the thought of violence, she says none of them are to be killed. This effectively denies any of the townspeople the right to make money from their pigs.
It’s a nice example of Chesterton’s fence.

The Bridgerton series features eight books, and various other series in the same setting. If it remains one book per season, that’d be eight seasons. Eight seasons is a lot. Moreso because the show creates its own subplots which diverge from the much better source material. I don’t think this dramatic half is good enough to last that long. I’m curious to see what they do with it.

Newer post Older post