Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Bridgerton Review: An Amusing Period Drama

It’s tempting to review Bridgerton thusly: “I highly recommend this Shondaland series, which will remind you a little of Jane Austen and a little of Scandal. Am prompted to specifically to decline from defining it as an orgy.”

But let’s say a little more.

Created by Chris Van Dusen, the eight-episode drama, premiered on Netflix on Christmas Day. Who previously wrote for the Shonda Rhimes shows Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. It’s also the first scripted product of Rhimes’ deal with Netflix from her production company, Shondaland. Bridgerton is an adaptation of mostly the first book in a successful series of eight Regency romance novels by Julia Quinn. Taking place in the early part of the 19th century, the books follow the eight siblings in the Bridgerton family. Four boys and four girls, as they seek the loves of their lives.

The Plot

This first season’s primary story is of Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor.) She is the eldest Bridgerton daughter, as she enters the competitive marriage market. There are parties and dances. Where young women meet to young men. Their favorites are called home for examination by their families for suitability. Daphne’s debut season gets off to a roaring start after she gains the favor of Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel.)

Which makes her the object of much chatter. But after a couple of bumps that make her fear she’s losing her “value” on the market, Daphne comes up with a plan that involves the help of a hot duke named Simon (Regé-Jean Page.) Who is uninterested in marriage. He needs a way to fend off the families who seek to foist their women on him. (Regency romance has a lot of hot dukes. They are to these books what elves are to … books that have elves.)Article continues after sponsor message

To try to explain what’s happening with all the Bridgertons would take pages, because although Daphne and Simon are the focus, several other siblings have B plots going on, including Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), who is dating an opera singer from the wrong side of the carriage tracks; Eloise (Claudia Jessie), who could not be less interested in following Daphne to marriage next year; and Benedict (Luke Thompson), who likes to paint.

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But wait! There is an entire other family, too. The Featheringtons. (Of course they are!) Their daughter Penelope (Nicola Coughlan, as delightful here as in Derry Girls) is best pal to Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton). She loves him from afar; he is a barely sentient lamppost about it. To the point where he has no idea how she feels, even when it’s very, very obvious. The Featheringtons have also taken in a young relative named Marina (Ruby Barker) who has a past of her own that is following her.

Is that all? OF COURSE NOT. All this is breathlessly reported to the entire town in an anonymous scandal sheet published by a writer who calls herself “Lady Whistledown.” Lady Whistledown! The Featheringtons!

Whistledown’s publications are an ingenious invention because they allow the plot to accelerate. What might take a long time to uncover in this world can be served up tout de suite when Whistledown, who somehow knows everything, drops all the hot gossip to everybody at the same time. She provides voice-overs too — and in whose melodious, majestic tones do we get to hear her dispatches?

Verdict

Are parts of this show silly? Of course. Are some of these brothers dull? So far, yes. But let us not linger on details. Let us not fuss over where, exactly, the orgy question arises. Let us simply celebrate good television.

In a serialized story, one episode will not be complete on its own when it comes to plot, but it should work on its own structurally. It should have a beginning, middle and end. That doesn’t always happen. Whole episodes are sometimes flat, because they’re in the flatter part of a season’s arc. Ideally, in a show like this, each episode should be both satisfying and tantalizing. You should exhale and say, “That was fun,” and you should also want the next one.

Shondaland makes television and makes it well. There are eight episodes of Bridgerton, and they all have endings that are like chapters in a good book. They leave you in a spot where you just want to read one more chapter before you turn off the light for the night. The end of the season concludes several stories, teases several more and has a couple of delicious mic-drop moments.

It’s made with wit (several classical arrangements of pop songs are used in the score.) With flair (the duke’s mother figure, Lady Danbury, marvelously played by Adjoa Andoh, has the most fabulous hats) and with an earthy kind of abandon. (There is … a lot of sex. If you are the kind of person who is uncomfortable watching enthusiastic sex scenes with members of your family, be forewarned. Let it be known I warned you, if this causes problems with your household.)

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