It’s got all the stuffy parties but also sex under the bleachers.
It’s the Regency (the period from 1811 to 1820 when King George III was still king but too crazy to rule) and all of the upper class Londoners are preparing for “the Season” (the time from March-August when the wealthy move into the city to party together). However, this year, there appears to be a new guest at all of the parties: the mysterious author Lady Whistledown (Julie Andrews), who seems to be dispensing all of the gossip, despite her (or his) anonymity.
The series focuses mostly on the Bridgerton family, consisting of mother and Viscountess Violet (Ruth Gemmell), and her many children: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, and Hyacinth (Jonathan Bailey, Luke Thompson, Luke Newton, Phoebe Dynevor, Claudia Jessie, Ruby Stokes, Will Tilston, and Florence Hunt). They interact frequently with the Featheringtons, consisting of Baron and Baroness Featherington (Ben Miller and Polly Walker) and their daughters: Philipa, Prudence, and Penelope (Harriet Cains, Bessie Carter, Nicola Coughlan) and the daughter of a cousin, Marina Thompson (Ruby Barker). Desiring an eligible suitor for marriage, Daphne Bridgerton enters into an agreement to fake a courtship with a rakish Duke, Simon Basset (Rege-Jean Page), and the lives of both families will never be the same.
This show is like crack to me and I both hate and love that fact. On its surface, this show would seem to be a guilty pleasure, teeming with lurid scenes of sexuality which can be enjoyed by people of any gender and preference (except possibly asexuals, but they still get to enjoy the awesomeness that is Eloise). However, much like with Game of Thrones (prior to the last season) or Perry Mason, the erotic scenes are only the icing on a cake comprised of fantastic writing, excellent performances, and some of the best costume and set work I’ve seen in a while. You’d think I would recoil from comparing erotica to icing, but such a thing is for people with shame, not people like me.
Speaking of shameless, it’s hard to describe this show without using the word “horny.” Everyone in this show is pretty damned hot for someone else, but live in a society where anything more than the most innocent contact is considered to make one a pariah. This is despite the fact that, naturally, a ton of people break the rules in secret. So, a lot of the series is focused on keeping up appearances versus giving into one’s natural desires. Particularly between Daphne and Simon, the main focus of the first season.
I don’t know if it’s the quality of the actors or just pure luck, but the chemistry between the two central characters is exactly what you would want for this kind of show. They play off of each other naturally both physically and verbally and they absolutely scream “want to bone” in almost every scene. If you’re not shouting “JUST F*CK ALREADY” by episode three, you probably are watching the wrong show. I also appreciate that their relationship is not a typical TV “will they/won’t they?” The pair move forward at a reasonable pace and come to a satisfying conclusion. My understanding is that this is because each of the books in this series focuses on a different member of the Bridgerton family, so this season was Daphne’s. Hopefully next season they do Eloise, as she is the most interesting of the sisters.
At first I was going to give this show credit for its race-blind casting, only for the show to reveal that it isn’t really race blind, it’s just that a historical event went a little differently and race relations in England have dramatically improved. I don’t know that it was necessary to actually explain the reasons, but either way I credit the show for being able to cast a show from the Regency without having it look like every other historical drama.
Overall, really good show. Recommend it strongly.
THE FACELESS OLD WOMAN THAT LIVES ON MY SOFA
I’m not a period piece person. I never saw Downton Abbey. I will go to the Renaissance Faire to support my friends, but if we’re going to cosplay a more regressive age I’d rather wear a 1950s dress and drink whiskey. (Incidentally, the only period TV show I can recall being seriously into is Mad Men.) The stiff way characters speak and conduct themselves on these shows can be hard for me to relate to. Also, everyone was actually very dirty and peed on the floor at royal events in this age (seriously, look it up!) But my Twitter feed was lighting up about Bridgerton in the early days of this year, and so I wanted to check it out.
Bridgerton felt perfect for quarantine (pre-insurrection, at least.) Pretty dresses, fancy parties, gossip, insatiable longing, all the things we can’t have right now, except for the insatiable longing. It’s great television: it has razor-sharp dialogue, it’s funny, it’s sexy, it has gorgeous costumes and sets, it employs women writers and a diverse, talented cast. There’s definitely a lot going on in the subtext, but the show does get to some real conversations about navigating a patriarchal society, the dire consequences of a lack of sexual education, how out of touch the ruling class is with the regular people…oh, and sex. They do get to have sex on the show, so that’s fun.
There are some question marks. It’s so exciting to see a period piece with a diverse cast, and originally I assumed they were going for “race-blind” casting and I was like, okay, sure! Just cast people who aren’t white in some of these roles they wouldn’t previously be considered for! And then they drop a line in the show that suggests race *is* a factor in the world of the show? Not sure where that is going, since it wasn’t really followed up on in this season. There is a notoriously controversial plotline that involves consent, having honest and open discussions with a potential partner about your expectations, and the consequences of a lack of sexual education. It’s a little frustrating that they bring up all this stuff and it’s resolved in a way that doesn’t really emphasize the importance of open communication. The chemistry between the characters is so strong that it didn’t really bother me in the moment, but it’s obviously struck a nerve for a lot of people, and rightfully so. Overall I think the show has a very strong start for a first season, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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