That’s an unoriginal title, I know, but it’s what the blog post is about. Here begins my blogging about the new Netflix series Bridgerton, which dropped on December 25, 2020. This TV series is based on a book series by Julia Quinn, and I have neither read the books nor intend to read them. I’m going to watch the show and be fine with it! The show is created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes, whose credits include Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get away with Murder, and more TV shows.
Of course, the Austen fans couldn’t wait for this series to arrive on Netflix, and many of them have already binge-watched the entire series and have already written reviews of the whole thing. I am doing my best to avoid those reviews because I don’t want any spoilers. I’m going to spoil it for you, though, so read no further if you haven’t watched the first episode yet. Need I type this in all caps? SPOILERS. 🙂
Alright. Episode 1. So many thoughts.
I’m gonna be honest. I didn’t love this first episode. I like the look of the show, and I love the diversity of the cast in the show, but I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters. I always tell my students, “You don’t have to like any of the characters to be able to appreciate a work of literature.” I stand behind that statement, and if I analyze Bridgerton (always talking about the TV series when I use that moniker from here on out), I have a lot to say and can appreciate a lot about the show. If I’m just watching it for absent-minded, don’t-want-to-think pleasure, I’m not too excited about it right now. Maybe the next episode or two will change my mind.
So what I’m going to do here is think literarily about this show and make a few observations.
This is not Jane Austen. Obvious, right? Well, no. A lot of people are comparing Bridgerton to Austen (especially those who watched Sanditon), and they really shouldn’t argue that they are the same kind of plots. Just because this show is about teenagers/early twenty-somethings and is set in early 19th-century polite English society does not mean that it is Austen. Austen wrote satire and comedies of manners. Quinn wrote a historical romance series. Van Dusen and Rhimes adapted that romance for a TV audience.
The show definitely has a different agenda than Austen’s novels do, even though Bridgerton reveals the ridiculous nature of young girls being “out” in society and having to marry young and well. It’s also cruder than Austen’s world, even more so than Andrew Davies’s Sanditon, but that’s because it is not trying to be Austen.
Let’s call Bridgerton “Austen adjacent.” There are two bump-and-grind sex scenes in the first episode. One character says “fuck,” FFS. There are a lot of 21st-century influences and touches in this series that appeal to today’s audiences. The costumes are divine and do much to bring Regency England to a modern audience. I really enjoyed the use of color in the first episode–so many bright colors! So many shiny fabrics! The addition of classically played versions of Ariana Grande’s “Thank You, Next” and a Maroon 5 song (was it “Girl Like You”?) at the ball were fun, too.
I have a lot of thoughts about this show, as I said, but I won’t share them all with you quite yet. This blog post would turn out to be quite long. I won’t comment on what I think of the lead couple, the controlling brother, the controlling mother, etc. and etc. Instead I’ll share this one thing below.
The thing I appreciate most about the show is its racially mixed cast. Sometimes Janeites freak out when they see a person of color in a Regency-themed film or series and claim that it’s historically inaccurate. That’s just white people being racist, IMHO, but they don’t always realize their own prejudices. People who claim you can’t cast a Black actor in the lead role seem to forget that every film or TV version is an adaptation of Austen’s novel, so you can do whatever the heck you want with it. But I digress.
To get back to my point: I’m glad to see actors of color playing parts beyond servant or slave in a show about the time period. It’s wonderful to see the queen and two nobles not being played by white people. (In the book they’re white.) This show breaks new ground in its deliberate casting and seamless incorporation of actors of color playing characters equal and superior to white people without calling attention to that, and this is REALLY important to recognize.
While at first I thought the show’s plot was not calling attention to race in the time period–it seems that every actor plays their part as if skin color is not an issue in the temporal setting: in Bridgerton a duke is a duke, a queen a queen, regardless of skin color–that is surely not the case. The fact that the queen and Lady Danbury are women of color opens doors for other women of color to hold prominent roles in this society. But there still might be something racially sinister going on in the world of this show.
There is a subplot that I want to keep my eye on, and this is the plot surrounding Marina Thompson. When she arrives at her relatives’ home she is clearly seen by the women of the family, with the exception of one, as a threat. She is different: she is from the country; they are from the city. She is naturally beautiful; they are not. They have the artificiality of beauty–clothes, mostly–while she has an uncultivated beauty. She is a person of color; they are not. I can’t help but wonder if this is something to which we should pay more attention. By the end of the first episode we learn that Marina is pregnant. We don’t know anything more than what Marina says to her aunt, which is that not everyone has it as easy and lives a life of luxury as they (this white family) do. Then she gets a gigantic slap across the face. This scene made me feel like there is a connection between race and class, and that we should not see the show’s vision as suggesting colorblindness. Color is very much a part of this show.
This gets us back to the queen and the real queen Charlotte. We should not just say, oh, it’s nice to see a woman of color playing this role and then move on. We should consider what it means to see a woman of color sitting on an English throne in this series and what doors this opens for all characters of color in the show. We should consider how the show normalizes Black women in positions of power. We should also consider the real-life queen’s lineage, which indicates that she was descended from a Black line of the Portuguese royal family. The internet is all about this history lesson right now. Did the show’s creator and producer make this connection? I don’t know. I have yet to see them say that in an interview. Doesn’t mean they haven’t said it, though.
What I did find was the lovely Golda Rosheuval’s comments on playing the queen: “Putting that person at the top of the triangle, as a person of color, allows you to expand the boundaries.” She also says, “For a long time, people of privilege have been in charge of the storylines and storytelling. I don’t know whether they have intentionally written out Black people, because we know that there were Black people and people of color” in Regency England. More diversity in historical films and TV shows is “long overdue.” Hear, hear!
As I close this inaugural post on Bridgerton, I’ll say that I actually enjoyed writing this post more than watching the first episode. I have enjoyed thinking through what the show represents as a show more than how it represents its characters and plot. I hope to see characters developed with more depth, and assuming they do look forward to commenting on that, too. 🙂