When the first season of Bridgerton launched, it was the belle of the ball. One of the most popular shows on Netflix, it launched a spin-off series (about the young Queen Charlotte), a rabid fandom, and a recent confirmation that there will be at least 2 more seasons after this new one. But, as an avid romance novel reader and fan of Julia Quinn’s series, there were a couple of red flags from the first season that have proven to be more than just overly-critical concerns. With the return of the series this Friday, if you’re expecting Bridgerton to remain just a story about Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), you will be sorely disappointed.
The problems with Season 2 of Bridgerton have their roots in the first season, roots that have grown and spread to invade more of the new season than the previous. What should be taking the center stage of every Bridgerton season is the love story of its two leads. As any romance enthusiast knows, a good love story has angst, a slow burn, unspeakable (and sometimes speakable) passion, and overwhelming chemistry. One of the most intoxicating aspects of a romance novel is jumping between the lead characters and understanding the yearning and longing the two hold for one another, despite the obstacles in their way.
The Viscount Who Loved Me has all those hallmarks. While Quinn’s later novels lose some of their spark, Kate and Anthony’s story is one of the most compelling. So compelling, in fact, that one of the most iconic lines of the first season of Bridgerton — Simon telling Daphne he burns for her — is actually plucked from Anthony and Kate’s story. But, the problem is, while much of the first season of the show was focused on Simon and Daphne’s story, it also introduced the other characters of the universe, including the prolific Bridgerton family and the members of the British ton.
Deciding to lean into the juicy gossip and melodrama of the ton, which was always more a plot device than the main star, Season 2 of Bridgerton shows its hand by leaning far into one of the worst romance tropes: the love triangle. While the novel the show is based on had mere shades of an implied love triangle, it never pushes it quite so far as the show does. It’s obvious that the producers at Shondaland and Chris Van Dusen’s history of working on soapy shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal have led to a far messier second season.
The seed of the issue was centering too much of the first season around the scandal of Lady Whistledown’s identity. Something that was fairly tiring in the first season and has fully been played out by this new one. The show spends far too much time dancing around the Whistledown of it all, when, if the show follows the timeline of the books aka a book a season, Penelope’s story is still two seasons away. While it’s true that the identity of Whistledown vexes the members of the ton, it’s not nearly as dramatic as the show makes it. Then again, the book never involves itself with the highest authority of the country…
The unfortunate thing is that if Kate and Anthony’s romance took up more of the series, was better paced, and given time to grow as more than just a tit-for-tat, a lot of the side plots would be forgiven for overstaying their welcome. But the fact is, the romance is uninspired. It has none of the heat and passion of the book, cutting some of its most steamy scenes out for some unknown reason. While we all love longing glances, there is perhaps too much of it and it never truly hits as hard as when it was Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor doing the glancing. Page and Dynevor had absolutely palpable chemistry, some of the best scenes with them aren’t of the two of them getting down and dirty, but of a passing look, a brief touch, a memory.
It’s not clear if it’s the direction, the writing, or the acting, but Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley had giant shoes to fill and could not do it. Even the camera work in some of the romantic scenes is bizarre, taking a heartfelt scene and making it unintentionally comical. It’s disappointing because the moments when Bailey and Ashley do mesh, it works. The chemistry is there. But, instead of digging deeper with Kate and Anthony — who have more in common than they initially realize — we stay near the surface.
Plot-wise, there are, of course, obstacles in the way of our couple, but some of them are so nonsensical I was often confused why these two simply couldn’t just get together. Characters from the first season who championed love matches and romance like Lady Bridgerton and Lady Danbury almost have a villainous turn in this season. It’s very clear that this season’s writers’ room did not understand the assignment. Especially with how Edwina has been twisted. It’s impossible to go into detail without spoiling the season, but this is not the Edwina you might expect, gentle reader.
Of course, beyond a book reader bemoaning accuracy from page to screen, the pacing of the season is all over the place. The show once again has 8 episodes, yet by the final episode, it’s still not clear how the season will end until the final moments. The camera work and the script take a step down in quality, and the CGI scenes (you’ll know them when you see them) are abysmal. Wasn’t Bridgerton Netflix’s darling? Why does it look like this?
Highlights of the season include the two Bridgerton brothers, Benedict and Colin, finally gaining a punch of personality beyond just the glimmer we saw last season. Where we only got glimpses at the two brothers’ aspirations last season, the trip abroad has helped Colin’s development and Benedict begins to explore more of his relationship with art. We similarly learn more about Penelope and her family, an investment that will hopefully pay back dividends when she becomes the lead during her season. Polly Walker’s Portia is particularly good this season as one of my favorite complex characters.
It may sound like I am being too harsh on the show, but perhaps it’s more about grounding my expectations. After the success of the freshman season, the sophomore slump is here. This is not a romance novel turned into a tv show, it’s a romance novel turned into a Shondaland tv show. I should have been warned. In choosing melodrama over romance, it is highly likely this series will derail further for the book fans. And in some respects, this could be good for certain characters who show more potential beyond the fate their book versions has given them. Although it’s hardly a failure, Bridgerton Season 2 suffers from too many extraneous storylines and not focusing enough on its leading two characters, and that’s where it falls short.
Bridgerton Season 2 premieres globally on Netflix March 25, 2022.