Joelle Mentis, Writer
You’ve exhausted the Peloton, you’re waiting for your sour bread starter to ferment and you need to shut yourself off for a little while. Or you’re looking for something to do to pass the hours between dinner and bedtime because we all know going out to drinks is out of the question. You’ve probably heard of Netflix’s latest release, Bridgerton, which, on the outset, looks like just another period romance with pretty actors. You’re probably debating whether it’s worth it to start. Trust us, it totally is. And we’re going to tell you why.
Maybe it’s enough to say that since it came out on Christmas Day, Netflix already reported that 63 million households have streamed this show. Yeah, people can’t get enough. The much anticipated and widely viewed addition to the streaming service is in some ways what you’d expect, a satisfying installment of sizzling and soapy antics created by the award winning duo of Shonda Rhimes and her Scandal co creator, Chris Van Dusen, but that isn’t everything. Besides it’s dishy, Gossip Girl meets Jane Austen rendition of 19th century London, the show is also a brand new take on both melodrama and period piece that is filled with humor, love, and a quirky, yet progressive perspective so engaging, viewers are becoming addicted to it.
Based on the novels by Julia Quinn, Bridgerton follows a family of nobles living in 1813 in high society London as they scuttle in and around blossoming romantic relationships in the midst of a formalized courting season. To honor its roots as a period piece, Bridgerton offers posh accents and extravagant costumes, as well as impeccably choreographed ballroom dancing. However, like most of Rhimes’ creations, the show goes beyond what it looks like on the surface.
If you’re like us, you’ve binged countless seasons of Shondaland productions like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, and are familiar with her creations which highlight diverse casts of seasoned actors and newcomers. Bridgerton is no different. Every kind of person is represented and stars such as Julie Andrews and Regé-Jean Page bring life to her setting of Grosvenor Square.
Only, unlike the notorious modern day hospitals that lay the backdrop of Grey’s, or Scandal’s famous contemporary Capitol city where it makes sense that racially diverse actors and actresses like Kerry Washington are cast in starring roles, the Black characters cast in Bridgerton depart from tradition. Other historical Regency romances like Emma fail to include non-white actors in roles other than those enslaved. The colorblind casting is vital to what makes Bridgerton such a must-see.
In Bridgerton, actors and actresses of color float freely through all classes and we don’t bat an eye. Rhimes’ work does the job of revealing the honest truth that characters of color should have just as much command of the narrative as their white counterparts. This is no Pride and Prejudice.
However, unlike the unacknowledged colorblind casting of hits like Hamilton, Rhimes takes care to lightly remark on the gravity of situations she places her Black characters in. Page’s star character Simon’s father notably tells him he must “remain extraordinary” to keep his position, an allusion to the discrepancy of treatment between Black and White people who hold the same positions.
As Rhimes breaks with conformity to cast a colorblind period piece, she also introduces other contemporary elements such as the mysterious gossip girl-esque narration by Lady Whistledown (late in the season revealed to be Julie Andrews) and classical renditions of hits from Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish. We know we’re suspending reality and we give in to every twist and turn.
However, true to Shondaland style, Bridgerton carries through it an equally light and playful (and sexually charged) story arc drawn out by multiple intertwining relationships. Character introductions, connections, and betrayals are meaningful and believable and it becomes hard not to fall in love with their love. As she always does, Rhimes’ layers each scene with innuendos, jokes and jabs, and the banter between characters hits home for fans of her other shows where family dramas and lovers quarrels glue viewers to the screens.
When you watch Bridgerton, you’ll laugh and you’ll smile, both for the enjoyment of true escapism, and for the due diligence this show gives to characters of color. And you’ll probably finish the whole series in a day because the show is like candy, sweet and comforting, and something you can mindlessly snack on at the end another long day in lock down. The romance is steamy, those who steal your sympathies are endearing, and as with any Shondaland show, it is so easy to watch all of. When you finish you’ll definitely crave more.