Yes, it’s back: Bridgerton, the My Little Pony rewrite of Georgette Heyer. Unbelievably, the first season of this candy-coloured drivel was, for a time, the most-watched series ever to land on Netflix, its humping rakes and non-witty duchesses streamed into 82 million households worldwide in a single month. And no, I can’t account for this at all, except to observe that on Christmas Day 2020 here in the UK, we were in the middle of a long and an extremely harsh lockdown. Some of us were close to losing our minds, and you would have to be halfway round the bend to enjoy dialogue this boring, plots this repetitive, wigs this preposterous.
The new series arrives minus the gorgeous, pouting Regé-Jean Page, who played Simon – yes, Simon: I’m sure a baronet called Brian will be along soon – Basset, the Duke of Hastings. From now on, then, the only tight britches in town belong to Anthony, Viscount Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey), who has decided, at last, to take the business of finding a wife seriously. Why? Who knows. “I’m not in need of coddling,” he tells his mother, the Dowager Viscountess (Ruth Gemmell), a statement so devoid of meaning in the context of their conversation that for a second I thought he might be referring to some exciting new sexual position.
Naturally, one wonders who his love interest might be. One of the weird things about Bridgerton is how few characters it has, and how similar they all are: most of the women in it are the Viscount’s sisters, and I hardly think the showrunners are likely to go there. But fear not! Someone has carefully cut out a new pair of cardboard toffs, just off the boat from Bombay: step forward Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) and her little sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran).
Edwina is Queen Charlotte’s latest “diamond”: the jewel of the season. But really it’s hot spinster Kate (she’s 26) in whom the Viscount is interested. Edwina is just a pawn, both in his game and in Queen Charlotte’s, who hopes to use her (God knows how) to discover the true identity of Lady Whistledown, the author of society’s favourite gossip sheet (we know, of course, that it’s written by Nicola Coughlan’s Penelope Featherington).
To be honest, it’s hard to care about any of this. Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) is still wearing Becher’s Brook on her head, at some points dyed aubergine, and at others a pale caramel that makes it look like asbestos. She can’t really read, as she can’t really move her head in the direction of the paper – but even if she could the stuff Penelope writes (narrated in voiceover by Julie Andrews) is more plodding than Bridgerton’s dialogue (though I’d be willing to bet an invitation to Lady Danbury’s latest ball that one day Penelope will be unveiled as the new Maria Edgeworth). Penelope’s “feminist” friend, Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie), who wears her bonnet as if it were a pair of noise cancelling headphones, has recently read Mary Wollstonecraft, and she’s eager that MW’s revolutionary spirit infect Whistledown’s wittering. Penelope, however, is resistant. She knows her own mind, and it is as frothy as her frocks.
And what of our other, er, favourites? The widowed Baroness Featherington (Polly Walker) is still sighing like crazy – a habit she only indulges all the more when the new Lord Featherington arrives with his hunting souvenirs, aka his “dubious style choices” (sorry to go on about the dialogue, but it really is straight out of Teen Vogue). And Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) is still over-enunciating every word. I think she’s supposed to sound posh, but mostly she just sounds strangulated: the effect, perhaps, of wearing a dress that makes your breasts look like two stress balls that are about to bounce up and hit someone bang smack in the face.
The first episode in the new season lasts eight hours and 24 minutes. No, not really. It does feel interminable, though, the action punctuated by only one appearance from Jonathan Bailey’s ultra-sculpted bum (odd, given that its supposed sexiness is meant to be Bridgerton’s USP). As I nobly watched it, I wondered, given that we’re all allowed out nowadays, if this series will prove to be as popular as the last. I doubt it, but I might be wrong. This could turn out to be yet another dreaded and long-lasting symptom – the worst yet! – of Covid-19.
Bridgerton is on Netflix from 25 March
This article appears in the 23 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, A Dream of Britain