‘Bridgerton’ Season 2 Tones Down the Sauciness for a Sweeter Romance
Life seems so much simpler in the world of Netflix’s “Bridgerton.” Everyone looks wealthy without effort and the days revolve around juicy gossip and arranged marriages. No wonder audiences responded in haste to the ebullient adaptation of Julia Quinn’s quick consumption bestsellers. The whole engagement is a candy-colored Victorian fantasy where everyone speaks in the kind of accents one makes precisely when poking fun at soap operas. Season two arrives keeping the soapiness intact while surprisingly toning down the saucier material. When “Bridgerton” premiered in late 2020, when everyone was still in lockdown and craving for escape, lots of attention was aimed at its bodice-ripping sex scenes. This new offering takes a while to get anywhere risqué.
If there is a unifying theme in “Bridgerton,” it’s the need to find a suitable spouse. Like the Quinn novels, this season switches the attention to different characters. The Bridgerton we follow around this time is elder brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), who is essentially head of the manor and thus needs a wife with brains and money. It’s a bit hard to find both, but Anthony soon casts an eye on Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran). Edwina is the charming daughter of the suitably elite Sharma family. Sealing the deal won’t be so easy, since Edwina’s older sister, Kate (Simone Ashley), who has forgotten what century she’s in and wants her sister to find true love. Headstrong Kate might just find it herself, with Anthony. Everything else is business as usual in Regency England. The men spend their time hunting while Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) walks around dispensing royal advice. The peasants seem happy too. We also find out who’s been publishing the Lady Whistledown gossip column that everyone devours. All along, it’s been Penelope (Nicola Coughlan), an innocent member of the Featherington clan.
The Penelope storyline involving her secret identity as a 19th century gossip columnist is probably the most engaging aspect of season two for the non-fan. There’s more suspense to it as Penelope soon forges a pact with a French dressmaker to get more juicy gossip to publishers. Aside from that, the rest of the storyline is fodder with the tone of YA fiction meets fluffy shirt drama. The “tension” resides mostly in Anthony and Kate fighting over marrying for love or for social convenience. We’re even deprived of that classic twist in any decent soap opera or Victorian melodrama, where at least one of the potential lovers is poor. Season two is more about the rich arguing with the rich. There’s not much erotic charge either, which is the main appeal of this kind of fantasy (you know it’s true). On the party end, not to worry, there are plenty of balls with big orchestras.
“Bridgerton” still boasts colorful production credits with its manors, estates and dresses boasting every palette imaginable. The diversity in the casting is also once again a refreshing touch. Even if you’re a Jacobin or anti-monarchist, it’s hard not to cheer for a melodrama where the roster features Black, Indian, Asian and white characters all stewing in intrigue. Other storylines get juicy only as lessons in bad relationships. Lady Featherington (played with gusto by Polly Walker) gets entangled in a mining scheme that threatens to ruin the family. Penelope and best friend Eloise (Claudia Jessie) drift apart because of Penelope’s secret identity as a muckraker. Sometimes we get some dialogue that must surely be a subtle jab at the incestuous ways of Europe’s aristocracies, when Lady Featherington considers marrying one of her daughters off to a cousin (“what’s wrong with marrying your cousin?”). Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury has the most presence, even as she mostly just does as the Queen, dispensing advice on matters of society and the heart.
The second season of “Bridgerton” might not win new converts and for fans waiting since 2020 for more, it arrives as a tamer serving. Judged next to the first season and by what it’s meant to do, it’s not terrible but not any better than what came before. Soaps and melodramas need to keep raising the volume in the plot with every new chapter. That’s how people get hooked. Creator Chris Van Dusen, should know better with a list of credits that include shows like “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Part of the appeal of a show like this is how it offers an escape from our daily lives. It’s no fun if we find out that aristocrats walking around in a Victorian fantasy are just as stuck in a conventional existence as we are. The audience wants to indulge with the royals in this series, not get bored with them.
“Bridgerton” season two begins streaming March 25 on Netflix.