‘Bridgerton’ Showrunner Says Season 3 Sees ‘Underdogs’ Penelope and Colin ‘Stepping Into Their Power’

Jess Brownell also teases how Penelope’s secret identity as Lady Whistledown impacts her love story

Bridgerton
Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington and Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton in "Bridgerton" (Credit: Liam Daniel/Netflix)

While “Bridgerton” Season 1 and 2 center on the brightest gems of the debutante crop, new showrunner Jess Brownell embraced rooting for the underdog as Season 3 turned its attention to the friends-to-lovers arc between Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton.

“Penelope has been a wallflower [and] Colin has been this third son who hasn’t quite found himself,” Brownell told TheWrap. “It’s about underdogs stepping into their power and stepping into their authenticity — both Colin and Penn have to embrace their true selves before they’re able to find true love.”

Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) and Colin (Luke Newton) aren’t the only characters who undergo a transformation this season, as Brownell teased both Francesca (played by new cast member Hannah Dodd) and Eloise (Claudia Jessie) inhabit a “whole different role,” with Francesca making her societal debut and testing the romance waters for the first time. “There’s a lot of people who are changing in really big ways this year,” Brownell said.

As the underdogs step into the spotlight for their chance at a lasting love, both Penelope and Colin — in classic “Bridgerton” fashion — get their own glow-up, with Colin embracing a darker color palette rather than his typical pastels to indicate a shift in confidence.

“The idea was to emphasize the fact that Colin has been off traveling; he’s become much more worldly [and] he’s feeling much more confident this season,” Brownell said, joking that he started dressing more like a pirate.

Penelope’s makeover, on the other hand, reflects “getting as far away from her mother’s taste as she can,” as she embraces the “opposite end of the color wheel” and opts for greens and blues, loosening her her hair from the pin-tight curls she used to wear. “It’s very much representative of her transformation and her growth away from her family,” Brownell said. “But how successful or not her makeover is, I think people will see in the first episode that there is still a lot of internal growth that needs to happen.”

Of course, the already complex friendship between Penelope and Colin — which left off with Colin speaking negatively about Penelope behind her back in the Season 2 finale — is further complicated by Penelope’s identity as gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, a looming secret that Brownell noted “provide[s] all the conflict and tension that we need.”

Yet, it is Penelope’s secret identity that enabled Brownell and her team to bend some typical “Bridgerton” rules when it comes to romance.

“They are characters who don’t necessarily play by the rules all the time, certainly not Penelope, who has this whole exceptional career, which was so unusual for that time period,” Brownell said. “That gave us some creative license to push them into a more romantic space.”

Below, Brownell unpacks stepping up as showrunner for Season 3, how Penelope’s secret identity impacts the season and what some new love interests bring to the table.

What has it been like for you to step up as a first-time showrunner on “Bridgerton”?
I remember when I first started at Shondaland, my first job was working for Betsy Beers — who Shonda’s producing partner — over 15 years ago. In the interview when she asked me about my longterm goals, [I said] I want to be a showrunner someday. I don’t know that I ever, genuinely, thought it would happen, or would happen on a show like “Bridgerton,” which is such a massive production, but it’s really the exact genre that I love. I’m really enjoying it and feeling very supported by Shondaland and everyone on the production.

What was it like for you to write Season 3 while Chris Van Dusen was making Season 2? Did conversations with him influence your approach to this season?
I did find out I would be stepping into the role while we were still producing Season 2, so I got to have conversations with Chris about that transition. He was super supportive and lovely about passing the torch to me.

Chris had a real vision, not just for the story, but for the visuals of the show. I remember in Season 2, Chris really fought for [a scene] where you see Eloise and Penelope lying down at night in a field of daffodils. It was winter when we were filming that scene, so there were no daffodils, but he had them create this photo field of daffodils. I remember later on that became one of the key images that went up on billboards promoting the show, and it was a real lesson for me in how important those grand large-scale visuals are for the show. It’s something I’ve really tried to incorporate in several places this season.

How did you balance Colin and Penelope’s love story, Francesca’s debut, the Mondrich family stepping into their title alongside other romances for the Bridgerton family?
When we break story on the show, we beat out every story individually and make sure that we’re hitting the right emotional turns on everything, and then the last step is weaving everything together. The most important thing is focusing on, not just what the theme of the season is, but what the theme of the episode is, and making sure that every story is loosely related to that theme at least so that it doesn’t feel like we’re just in too many places — it actually feels like everything is building to a similar conclusion.

How does the tension of Eloise knowing Penelope’s secret identity as Lady Whistledown change this season?
As soon as one person knows a secret, it gets harder and harder to keep it. Narratively, Penn’s secret as Whistledown functions well for us in the back half in terms of hanging over everything that’s happening. We know that eventually that bomb is going to drop, and it allows us to spend some lovely time with Penn and Colin in a bit of a love bubble, without creating extra conflict directly between them.

Season 3 introduces new potential love interests Lord Debling (Sam Phillips) for Penn and Lady Tilley Arnold (Hannah New) for Benedict. How do they shape the story in Part 1?
Lord Debling was an important addition for us. We wanted to give Penelope some other options because she deserves to have other options — she’s a catch. For Colin, Debling functions as a reminder that he doesn’t have forever to get it together with Penelope. On the Tilley side of things, she’s someone who really helps Benedict figure out what he wants out of life. She’s someone who knows exactly what she wants, and is not afraid to voice it.

How far are you on development for Season 4?
We are in the midst of it. We have some scripts and we’re feeling really good about what we have. I can’t speak too much about it right now — I want to stay focused on Penn and Colin and give them their moment. But I’m very excited for people to see what we have eventually.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“Bridgerton” Part 1 is now streaming on Netflix.

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