“BRIDGERTON” IS COMFORT TV BUT IT’S ALSO DEEP
“When a rule-breaker breaks her world’s rules, the world tries to reestablish those rules, which in turn clarifies what they are, for the audience (and shows that the world is already broken).”
Classic authors like Jane Austen have stories that are still moving today because of their ability to make you feel connected to their characters. Austen’s writing is so vivid, her characters feel sturdy, and much like the structure of your house, her characters are made concrete. In doing so, Austen captures the natural and enigmatic parts of their classic lifestyles, those little inconsequential details, that add up to make their journey feel whole and relatable. For this reason, period dramas will never get old or tired because of the simple fact that there is enough mystery about those times to motivate viewers to seek greater insight into the old and alien manners of living that teeter close to our modernity. In fact, in all popular historical dramas, Sandition, Belgravia, Downton Abbey, there is one thing in common, their resemblance to modern life. It’s what we love about them. Bridgerton is rich with depth, just like all the rest.
Like other historical stories, Bridgerton follows a wealthy family in England at a time when women were property, men were people, and sex was everywhere and yet non-existent. In this world, we discover Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) a young woman who is endowed with a face so beautiful, it literally causes people to stop and observe when she walks into a room. We find her on the hunt for a husband but with her noble family backing her, she has her pick of anyone she wants. So, of course, she chooses Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), the one guy who is cold to her, because he is confident and because he is a duke. The entirety of the first four episodes feels stuck in a continuous melodramatic bend on the issue of their union and nearly everyone else within the Bridgerton family and even those outside of it, are overshadowed by their Olivia Pope/ Fitzgerald Grant drama, filled with monologues and all. Nearly everyone is overlooked save for a gossip girl like figure on the loose, called Lady Whistledown, who keep tabs on everyone and reports it to the public. Somehow, we’re also able to pay notice to the introduction of the scandalous/ pregnant cousin Marina (Ruby Barker), of the neighbouring Featherington family (the close friends of the Bridgertons). But suddenly, somewhere around the fifth episode, the world of the series sprawls out enough to allow for more of a presence from the secondary characters and with this change, the show becomes larger than marriage.
Originally based on Julia Quinn’s novel, Bridgerton is comfort TV; there is no doubt about that, but like all dystopian stories, it draws from the undesirable aspects of our society by presenting a new lens into our conditions. Actually, the Featherington family provide a perfect representation of how precarious the conditions of women are in general and in such a glaring but subtle way, simply because they are secondary characters. While Daphne and the rest of the Bridgerton clan busy themselves with matters of love or passion, the Featherington family are acutely aware of their stations and their need to survive. For the women, the issue of marriage isn’t as simple as looking for a love match, the wrong choice could essentially mean living a life of poverty. Their insecurity is purely because of the mismanagement of Lord Featherington (Ben Miller), but the women are the ones left to feel the full effects of his decision. Sadly, their story is about the consequences of not having money, how living above your means can ruin you, but also, about the foils of greed and deception.
Marina, a beautiful, young, and unmarried woman, provokes a momentary resistance when she demands a life of comfort despite her “unfortunate” condition. She excites viewers with a muddled scheme to worm her way into a high station and in doing so, the Featherington family are briefly damaged by rumors and gossip that threaten to ruin their reputation. Although her pregnancy is hardly a humiliation, it’s a mark of disgrace to everyone around her because it signals that she is sexually liberated and a nonconformist who threatens the natural order of a patriarchal high society by merely being around people and practicing agency. Sound familiar? The Featherington saga offers a revelation on the nature of power within heteronormative relationships and societies without striking you with it.
“When a rule-breaker breaks her world’s rules, the world tries to reestablish those rules, which in turn clarifies what they are, for the audience (and shows that the world is already broken).” Matthew Salesses writes in his essay “On Worldbuilding and the Question of Resistance.” As Salesses notes, the perspectives surrounding a rule breaker can force the development of resistance in an audience. Bridgerton nudges this idea through the rough presentation of Marina and Lady Whistledown, making viewers eager to reject the rules that have women folding to the pressures of their time.
Of course, Bridgerton isn’t entirely eclipsed by the depths of dread and life concerns. It’s not a very good show. Some might even say, it’s bad. But it closely mimics the ease of Downton Abbey and it’s rich with salaciousness, sex and lots and lots of drama, along with good music. All reflections on life, stressors like colorism, sexism, homophobia and other social concerns are addressed in passing to make space for more sex, more romantic struggles, and generally if acknowledged, they are sneaked through the developments of secondary characters who encounter the Bridgertons. Still, the series, provides a great relief from intense dramas and admittedly, over time, you become invested in their love interests and pray that everything will work out well even though you know that it very likely will.