‘Bridgerton’ Delivers Hot Sex and Corsets for Christmas. God Bless Us, Every One.
Just when we needed it the most, Netflix and Shonda Rhimes gave us a period soap opera with attractive Brits banging their way across London.
It’s a bit of a Scrooge-y Christmas season for all of us, and so Shonda Rhimes gave us Regé-Jean Page, as a little treat.
The series itself is like a thought experiment asking, “What if Jane Austen had seen Gossip Girl and was then asked to write a binge-worthy TV series that is meant to be consumed with a vibrator in hand?” And Page is the answer to that query, an actor who a colleague of mine—whose identity I will not reveal in order to protect her from future restraining orders—decidedly ruled “the hottest man I have ever seen.”
But Page as Simon Basset, the brooding and emotionally tortured hunk stalking the outer circles—not to mention the libidos—of Regency London’s society season, is but one fantastical draw of Bridgerton, particularly with its Christmas Day release date at the end of this cursed pandemic year.
It surely is not what Rhimes or Netflix planned when it came to how or when to launch this very expensive-looking, very escapist new show. But, as it stands, it arrives with serious vibes of, “Got nothing to do over holiday break? Here’s sex and corsets from the Grey’s Anatomy lady.” And, truly, God bless us, every one.
Bridgerton is set in that British society era we’ve festishized to the point of historical fiction in our minds, when balls were staged with the sole purpose of matching one family’s come-of-age daughter to another’s eligible bachelor. A time when decorum is such a priority could only be fruitful ground for salacious gossip, which is precisely what Bridgerton seizes on.
Enter Lady Whistledown, an omniscient character voiced by Julie Andrews who pens the Grosvenor’s Square version of Page Six. (If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Julie Andrews is the new Kristen Bell.) She’s all up in everyone’s business, to the point that even the Queen is keeping tabs on who’s in Whistledown’s favor and whose scandals she’s raking through the mud.
Whistledown’s main preoccupation is Daphne Bridgerton, the “diamond” of the society season; its Tinsley Mortimer, if you will. After a few stressful minutes of “you can’t tell me that’s not Sansa Stark” while watching Phoebe Dynevor’s performance, you’ll be swept away in her infuriatingly complicated love story with Simon Basset.
If you’ve read any of the advance coverage of Bridgerton, you’ll have heard that this show fucks. As in there is sex. Lots of it. And not like Scandal “this is kind of hot and then the camera cuts away” sex. There are butts! And boobs! And at Christmastime! Oh come all ye faithful, indeed.
The series takes a few episodes to get to all the humping you’ve heard about. At first I wondered, where was all the sex I was promised? And then it showed up. And came again and again. It was so incessant I needed to press pause and spend a few minutes with God.
At one point, two characters are having a heated argument about the state of their lives together, they briefly pause for a violent round of cunnilingus on a staircase, and then they continue their argument.
This is a big fuss about what is, ultimately, just one element of the show—albeit an undeniably important one. But that underscores how Bridgerton actually makes good on the intrigue of a legendary network television creator taking her universe—literally Shondaland—to a streaming service.
It’s not just the explicitness of the love scenes, or even a no-brainer like the budget she’s afforded to make a show that looks like this, as if PBS sent all of Downton Abbey through a Baz Luhrmann Snapchat filter and this is what came out the other side.
Too many of these major streaming deals have found their creators essentially doing their same schtick, just with longer running times, more narrative bloat, and, some would argue, a diminishing return on quality. With Bridgerton, Rhimes seems to genuinely be capitalizing on doing things narratively—not just production-wise—that she never would have been able to do on broadcast TV.
A Regency soap opera pulsing with lust? It’s the circa 2020 industry conundrum where it will be an undeniable, massive hit for Netflix, but never would have existed anywhere else.
I mean, folks, it’s not perfect. There are some story yarns that range from boring to perhaps even offensive. For all the celebration of the inclusive, seemingly gender-blind casting, there’s such a half-hearted swing toward a queer storyline that you wonder why bother at all. And the playfulness with production can careen from cute to twee quite quickly.
But honestly… whatever. It’s a juicy show that will get you hard and make you cry—a real capturing of life under lockdown—while serving up a cast so stacked with attractive actors that by the time storied British hottie Freddie Stroma shows up, he starts to look almost plain. Let’s all just be grateful.