Season 2 of Bridgerton is another hit success - what is the show doing right?
It has been nearly three weeks after the release of the second season of the much-anticipated Netflix series, Bridgerton, and the excitement has barely slowed to a trickle. Indeed, the Instagram algorithm is surely pulling its weight because every time I scroll through my explore page, I am greeted by ‘Kanthony’ fan posts at every corner. I am not complaining, however, as bingeing the second season in two days was truly a delight. The story was a surprising demonstration of a much-loved but overdone enemies-to-lovers trope, mixed with the pining frustration of a slow-burn romance. Many Young-Adult readers would be familiar with these narratives, but I was surprised at how artfully it was done in the show. With over 250 million hours viewed in its first week of airing, I don’t think I am the only one with this opinion (Forbes, 2022). However, it wasn't only the second season that achieved such great heights. In the same time frame, the first season of Bridgerton received over 53 million hours viewed. The show is doing something right, but can it only be chalked up to the creative storytelling and the colourful escapism to regency-era England?
One of the first things you will notice upon the first episode of Bridgerton is the plethora of ethnicities exhibited in the show. This is quickly remarked with surprise since many know England as the largest perpetrator of whitewashing in history. However, what I truly appreciate in the show (which is something also done in another British Netflix series, Sex Education), is the normalisation of seemingly ‘deviant’ attributes. In the cases of both shows, this is the normalisation of non-English cultures and darker skin tones, to the point that this is not used as a major plot point or pointed message about ethics and morals. Likewise, in Sex Education, the normalisation of interracial and homosexual parents, for example, is done so effortlessly, that as a viewer of the show, you view such a relationship as a regular part of life and not something that some people are trying to ostracise from society. These things just are, and the meaning of diversity and inclusion as we know it now is not the same in this series’ world. In Bridgerton, the queen of England at the time, Queen Charlotte, is portrayed with dark skin. Even though scholars have called this ‘black royal’ an unhistorical assertion, we should remind ourselves that the show is a fictionalised fantasy of history (Friel, 2021). Consequently, what this means in the show's world is that with a non-white queen, room has been made for other ethnicities to be represented in English society.
In the first season of Bridgerton, even though this normalisation was already top-tier, it managed to be even better in season two. In season two, the story is centred around the journey to find a bride for the viscount of a wealthy English family, the Bridgertons. This bride is later shown to be found in a visiting family from India. With subtle nods to Indian culture interwoven in the interactions between the two female protagonists, it was both an entertaining and educational watch. Later, during my post-binge show research, I found that in Julia Quinn’s novels - which the series is based on - the surname of Kate Sharma, as she’s known in the show, was originally written as Kate Sheffield in the books. They changed this to suit the Indian heritage of the show’s character (and actress), however, the name Sheffield was still used as the surname of her relatives in the show. Furthermore, there were humorous nods to Indian ‘Chai’ (directly translated to tea) as something that the English enjoyed so much during their colonisation of the region that they brought back a watered-down version of it. Little quips such as these are a hilarious and clever celebration of cultural differences. After all, that’s what it is all about, isn’t it? Celebration. It is not simply pointing out the differences between our appearances, traditions and rituals. It is about celebrating them together, making meaning and feeling good with your community.
After the success of this second season, it’s going to be tough for the third season to fill those shoes and go the extra mile. However, considering Bridgerton’s current track record, especially with each season being an adaptation of the corresponding book by Quinn with a Bridgerton sibling protagonist, this doesn’t appear to be too much of a hurdle.