“Bridgerton” pre­miered on Netflix on Dec. 25.
Courtesy | FaceBook

Jane Austen. “Gossip Girl.” “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”

Put them together and you get “Bridgerton,” the Netflix and Shon­daland sen­sation that’s so soapy and steamy it’s prac­ti­cally a bubble bath. 

The series follows the refined and close knit Bridgerton family, which con­sists of the Dowager Vis­countess Violet Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) and her eight children, who are at the social peak of 1813 English nobility. This first season focuses on Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), the fourth child and eldest daughter, during her debu­tante season on the high-class mar­riage market. 

For Daphne and her peers, it is imper­ative to secure a mar­riage match before the end of the six-month London social season. Luckily for her, she is aided by Queen Charlotte’s (Golda Rosheuval) favoritism, but hin­dered when a per­ni­cious and mys­te­rious gossip pam­phleteer named Lady Whis­tledown (voice of Julie Andrews) tar­nishes her rep­u­tation. Daphne seeks to regain her place as the “diamond of the season” by forging an alliance with Simon Basset, the broody Duke of Hastings (Rege-Jean Page). 

He is in high demand due to his wealth, status, and good looks, but pledged to never marry and con­tinue the Hastings line as an act of revenge upon his cruel father. By appearing to court, Simon avoids the ques­tions asso­ciated with showing no interest in women, and Daphne returns to her station as the most desirable bachelorette.

Long story short, they catch feelings. Through a dra­matic series of events they end up married, but it’s not happily ever after yet. Daphne des­per­ately wants a large family like the one she came from, but Simon can’t get past the vow he made to his father. All the while there are several side plots involving the Bridgerton sib­lings, their rival family the Feath­er­ingtons, and the mystery of Lady Whistledown’s identity.

It plays on perennial rom-com tropes like “fake dating sit­u­ation” and the bad boy/good girl dynamic, but there’s enough things going on outside the main plot to make the show feel fresh and dynamic. For one, there’s the decedent Regency setting to provide con­stant visual appeal in the cos­tumes and sets. 

It’s not meant to be his­tor­i­cally accurate, and it’s more of a fantasy version of this era that’s col­orful in more ways than one. But the added sparkle on the cos­tumes, the diverse casting, and the string quartet covers of pop songs add appeal to the modern eye, and it’s enjoyable despite its flaws.

And, boy, are there flaws.

The most grating is the lazy writing, espe­cially when it comes to the romantic rela­tion­ships at the center of the plot. One repeated com­plaint from other reviews is the lack of chem­istry between Simon and Daphne. This misses the deeper problem, because the actors them­selves are very capable — the problem is what they were given to work with. 

The writers seem to have for­gotten the all important rule of “show don’t tell.” I am told that the leads are a perfect match, but what I saw was two side char­acters with infi­nitely more chem­istry in the span of one con­ver­sation than the Duke and Daphne had across the entire season. I am told that Daphne is the “diamond of the season,” but all I saw her do was manage not to faint in front of the queen during her pre­sen­tation at court. 

Addi­tionally, many of the pivotal moments that drive the story forward are con­trived beyond belief. Without proper build up, pivotal moments, like Daphne’s decision to turn down a pro­posal from a prince based on her feelings for Simon, feel arbitrary. 

They try to make up for this lack of per­sonal chem­istry with sexual chem­istry, but it’s too little (or too much?) too late. A good third of episode six’s run time is ded­i­cated to sexy mon­tages of Simon and Daphne, but this doesn’t help to explain why they’re so pas­sionate about each other in the first place.

There are also numerous misuses of dra­matic tension. Moments are built up as having huge con­se­quences when they’re revealed in the next scene to be fake-outs. For instance, Daphne rides into the middle of a duel and appears to take a bullet and lies motionless for a minute, just for her to pop up unharmed. One of Daphne’s rival debu­tantes threatens to spread a rumor that would destroy her rep­u­tation, but it never comes to fruition.

But almost despite itself, there’s a poignancy beneath it all. As Daphne and her sister discuss their fears and hopes for their future mar­riages and fam­ilies, I saw internal argu­ments I’ve had with myself played out on screen. There is a beau­tiful lesson about loving your spouse with your whole self and with­holding nothing. It invites emo­tional investment through the uni­versal relata­bility of the awk­wardness that sur­rounds looking for a spouse.

Bridgerton isn’t a “so bad it’s good” kind of enjoyable, but rather a unique and some­times infu­ri­ating mix of annoying and perfect ele­ments. With a second season soon to be con­firmed, the writers would do well to brush up on some basic rules of sto­ry­telling to keep the frus­tration at a minimum.