Regency romance dramas are full of dramatic tropes and ridiculously poetic professions of love, not to mention extravagant gowns and never-ending galas. “Bridgerton,” the hit Netflix series from creator and showrunner Chris Van Dusen and executive producer Shonda Rhimes, has all that in spades. But while “Bridgerton” Season 2 arrives with all of the scandal, gossip, and sartorial excellence we’ve become accustomed to, the sophomore outing lacks the fresh appeal and engaging pace of the first season.
We begin again with England’s wealthiest families returning to London for the new social season. A new crop of debutantes prepares for Queen Charlotte’s (Golda Rosheuvel) and the rest of the ton’s inspection. Including Dutchess Daphne Bridgerton Basset, who returns to coach younger sister, the reluctant Eloise Bridgerton (Claudia Jessie), on hopefully becoming the Queen’s “diamond” of the season.
Like Julia Quinn’s best-selling “Bridgerton” romance novels, this installment of the series is focused on the eldest son, Viscount Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey), and his sudden decision to marry. Anthony approaches the concept of courtship with the efficiency of a business transaction and is quickly interviewing eligible maids with all the romance of a police interrogation.
One morning, Anthony meets a mysterious woman out for a morning horseback ride. Their banter is easy, their attraction instant, but she is gone before Anthony can get her name. The elusive equestrian is Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), the elder sister of Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran), both guests of everyone’s favorite dowager, Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh).
Kate doesn’t speak to the viscount again until the first ball of the season, but not before overhearing him reduce the institution of marriage to little more than breeding and boredom. Kate promptly reads Anthony like yesterday’s news, and their “hate-mance” begins.
Their bickering (as well as their attraction) grows after Anthony invites the Sharmas out to the family estate at Aubrey Hall for a relaxing weekend of Pall Mall and pining before the rest of the ton arrives for the festivities. Just when tensions between Kate and Anthony reach a boiling point, he turns his attention to Edwina, who is absolutely smitten with him.
Season 2 reuses many of the same plot devices of Season 1, albeit with different characters. Kate’s protectiveness of Edwina is reminiscent of Anthony’s gatekeeping of Daphne’s suitors in the show’s first season (a point that the Duchess is quick to point out). In addition, Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) warns Anthony against toying with the Sharma sisters’ emotions just as Lady Danbury warned Simon Bassett (Regé Jean-Page) against such behavior with Daphne in Season 1. And Kate, the eldest in her family, was forced to take on a parental role at a young age, similar to Anthony.
Which explains their logical attraction, even if it’s not readily apparent to viewers.
Anthony definitely shows interest in Kate early on, the chemistry just doesn’t compare to his affections for opera singer Sienna in the previous season. As the “hate-mance” continues, Anthony’s feelings for Kate don’t appear to be truly genuine until a few episodes in. Neither Kate’s frantic daily horseback rides nor Anthony’s half-naked trysts at the brothel compare to Daphne and Simon’s steamy intimate scenes in Season 1. Indeed, those looking for the same level of sex as the first season of the show will surely be disappointed with the lack of, well, passion on display for much of Season 2.
Things are heating up, however, for Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan), who has more of a role now that it has been revealed to viewers that she is ‘Lady Whistledown’, the anonymous author of everyone’s favorite gossip paper. We watch her maneuver about the London social scene, simultaneously dodging the Queen’s and Eloise’s renewed efforts to uncover her identity.
But the breakout star of this season is Chandran’s Edwina, whose arc takes her from innocent child to fully capable adult in just a few episodes and gives her one of the best speeches of the show.
“Bridgerton” Season 2 is definitely binge-able, and there is plenty of pearl-clutching angst that fans will adore, but despite following a different storyline there’s not much new here to enjoy beyond the beautiful array of performers and familiar tropes. And while this season features an “enemies to lovers” storyline with a love triangle so obvious you can see it from space, it takes too long to get where it’s going.
And no matter how many times viscount Anthony Bridgerton is seen getting dressed (in or out of water), there’s simply no comparison to Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings eating a yogurt.
All episodes of “Bridgerton” Season 2 premiere on Netflix on March 25.