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The period romance is less horny, but just as watchable
Have you become insatiably obsessed with scouring your social media feeds for any morsel of gossip? Have you started breaking out in a sweat every time you pull a spoon from your cutlery drawer? Do you awake at night with sudden-onset heaving bosom (I'm not a doctor but that sounds like a real thing to me)? It can only mean one thing: Bridgerton is back. Netflix's massive hit series, based on Julia Quinn's series of romance novels about a high society family in 19th century England, left quite the impression when Season 1 arrived in 2020, what with its horned-up Regency Era lords and ladies, its lush visuals, and a romance story meant to make you both swoon and sweat. If you're a fan of the series who has somehow forgotten the magic of Season 1 — a lot has happened since it premiered, just saying — don't fear, because it seems Season 2 of Bridgerton, which arrives on March 25, has certainly not.
The world of Bridgerton has arrived in Season 2 very much intact. Creator Chris Van Dusen's playful tone, production designer Will Hughes-Jones's lavish sets, and the gorgeously detailed costumes (designed by Sophie Canale in Season 2) may not surprise as much as they did at first, but the spectacle of it all remains just as fun. In fact, my main takeaway while watching these eight new episodes was just how seamlessly Season 1 folds into Season 2. For better or worse, this new batch of Bridgerton is much of the same. If you loved Season 1, what's not to love about Season 2?
So then, what is different as we embark upon 1814 London? If you've been following Bridgerton news, you're well aware that the team behind the show has made it clear it's taking its lead from the novels, in that Quinn focuses each of the eight original Bridgerton books on the love story of a different Bridgerton sibling. Season 1, based primarily on the Daphne-focused The Duke and I, saw Bridgerton sibling number four, Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) fall for the Duke of Hastings Simon Bassett (Regé-Jean Page) and then live happily ever after. It was horny as hell. But although Page was the breakout of the season, he will not be reprising his role here. Dynevor's Daphne does show up in a smartly designed supporting role, she being the only sibling who really knows what it's like to survive the marriage market and fall head over heels. Instead, Season 2 sees Cupid turning its bow toward the eldest Bridgerton, the viscount, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey).
At the end of Season 1, Anthony had sworn off love after being left heartbroken by opera singer Siena Rosso (Sabrina Bartlett) and vowed to procure a wife who would fit a certain set of requirements, none of which include real feelings for her, because that is his duty as the viscount and head of the family. Season 2 dives deeper into Anthony's insistence on hiding behind his duty and responsibility and there is much more to it than heartbreak. Whether he wants to admit it or not, this is a man who has some deep-seated trauma after being thrust into the leadership role in the family at just 19, after not only witnessing his father's untimely death, but how grief consumed his mother Violet (Ruth Gemmell). Anthony is deeply scarred from it. Bailey does an excellent job of letting glimpses of that pain creep through the armor Anthony's built himself out of familial duty. Exploring this part of the Bridgerton family history also gives more layers to the sometimes prickly relationship between Anthony and his mother, and the scenes between Bailey and Gemmell have real emotional heft to them.
If Bailey is adept at showing that side of Anthony, he's also pretty skilled at whispering swoony and seductive things to people he should not be whispering swoony and seductive things to. Season 2 of Bridgerton seems to have dialed down the horniness and instead dialed up the palpable longing. Oh, there is so much longing.
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And who is the object of Anthony's desire? That's Kate Sharma played by Sex Education's Simone Ashley. The season might be billed as "Anthony's love story," but it is without a doubt a two-hander and Ashley is a welcome addition to the Bridgerton universe. Kate arrives in London with her stepmother Mary Sheffield-Sharma (Shelley Conn) and younger sister Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), who have all come over from India for Edwina's first season out — the plan is to find her a love match with the help of Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh, who thankfully, gets a much bigger role this season) as their sponsor. It doesn't take long for Anthony to set his sights on Edwina, and even shorter for Kate, who has heard Anthony's list of requirements for a wife, to take a serious disliking to him. They can't help but spar every time they find themselves in each other's presence. It's innate for them to needle at one another. And what we have here, friends, is a patented enemies-to-lovers situation. It's a well-worn romance trope that is really only as good as the two players in it and Ashley and Bailey have an immediate chemistry. But Kate Sharma isn't simply a love interest — the show takes care to give her her own baggage too. Much like Anthony, Kate has hardened herself and uses the excuse of family duty to explain it away. Ashley plays her angst well. She expresses a tremendous amount in her eyes — which is especially important in a show where forbidden glances are half of the story.
All of which is to say that if you were worried Bridgerton wouldn't work without Daphne and the Duke at the helm, you have no reason to; Ashley and Bailey are more than able to carry the show. It's unbelievably easy to watch these two fight…and, uh, do…other things.
But one love story does not a TV season make. There are many other things going on in the world of Bridgerton. Some of the episodes feel bloated — several pass the 60-minute mark — and could be better streamlined, especially since there are moments throughout where story beats begin to feel repetitive, both within Anthony and Kate's story, as well as for several supporting characters with arcs that retread much of Season 1 (I'm looking at you, Benedict and Colin). Elsewhere, Eloise (Claudia Jessie) remains the brightest spot amongst the other Bridgertons, and while the mystery of Lady Whistledown's (voiced by Julie Andrews) identity was solved — for the audience — last season, there's still stuff to mine there that adds some complexity to Penelope's (Nicola Coughlan) character. And yes, the Featheringtons are still around scheming in order to stay relevant, but I would've easily traded in their entire storyline for more time with the much more interesting Sharma family (honestly, there is one family dinner that will make you want an entire series about these women).
So, sure, at times the first few episodes could drag on, but it was impossible not to stay invested in seeing the whole thing play out. Thankfully, the back half of the season is where things really heat up. In all the ways you imagine.
Premieres: Friday, March 25 on Netflix
Who's in it: Simone Ashley, Jonathan Bailey, Ruth Gemmell, Nicola Coughlan, Charithra Chandran
Who's behind it: Chris Van Dusen, Shonda Rhimes
For fans of: Bursting bodices, Bridgerton Season 1
How many episodes we watched: 8 out of 8