Bridgerton’s first season was undeniably, unapologetically sexy. The raunchy regency drama based on the novels by Julia Quinn burst onto Netflix in December of 2020 and instantly became a sensation for the streaming platform. Created by Chris Van Dusen and executive produced by television maven Shonda Rhimes, Bridgerton delicately balanced chaste, British manners with wild and often graphic depictions of the lust shared between series leads Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor. Bridgerton season one was the period piece manifestation of the well-worn maxim “a lady in the streets, but a freak in the sheets.” Yet Bridgerton’s second season, which hits Netflix today, has almost completely done away with the sex that defined the first season—much to its detriment.
This is, in part, by design. Following the course of Quinn’s novels, Bridgerton’s second season has done away with Rege-Jean Page’s rakish Duke of Hasting in favor of focusing on the love story between Jonathan Bailey’s Lord Anthony Bridgerton and newcomer Simone Ashley’s Kate Sharma. After initially flirting on horseback, Anthony and Kate’s relationship turns prickly and competitive. They trade barbs at polo matches and verbally spar while playing croquet, both swearing to find the other absolutely revolting while secretly pining for the other. Their relationship is not dissimilar to that of Kate and Petruchio’s in Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew—an arrogant and overly-proud man constantly at odds with an intelligent and headstrong young woman, also named Kate, who’s sworn off men. Quinn has acknowledged the similarities between her Kate and Shakespeare’s Kate, telling Glamour that “a lesser actress might have allowed Kate to devolve into a Taming of the Shrew caricature.”
As such, it takes a while for their relationship to bloom. It doesn’t help that Kate has a seemingly perfect younger sister, Edwina (Charithra Chandran), who is the object of everyone’s eye and has multiple suitors—just like Kat’s sister in Shakespeare’s play. But Bridgerton diverts from Shakespeare’s narrative by having Anthony become betrothed to Edwina—not Kate. While this creates a very real obstacle that keeps Anthony and Kate’s passion for each other at bay, it also destroys any opportunity for the lovebirds to engage physically.
And as a result, season one’s three-minute long sex montages have been traded for hushed whispers in gardens. The stairwell cunninglingus has been replaced by almost kisses in libraries. It’s all forbidden in polite Regency society but, let’s be honest: one of these modes is way more exciting than the other.
A sexless Bridgerton goes against the grain of the current TV landscape, which seems to be trending in the opposite direction. Shows like HBO’s Euphoria, Hulu’s Pam and Tommy, and HBO Max’s Minx have leaned heavily into fragrant displays of eroticism, specifically displays that center the male form. Bridgerton’s first season fit more squarely in this narrative, with Bustle going so far as to rank the show’s sex scenes based on how much of Page’s butt we could see at any given time. But you’d be hard pressed to compile a similar list for Bailey’s buttocks in season two, as Anthony spends most of his time brooding about family business.
Eventually, Anthony and Kate do consummate their love—outside under a pergola, in a scene straight out of a Fabio-covered romance novel. But after seven episodes of waiting, the moment feels anti-climatic. Delayed satisfaction can be sexy—but wait too long, and you’re in dangerous territory of losing interest. We can only watch Anthony and Kate ignore their true feelings for each other for so long, repeat the same conversation about choosing “familial duty” and “honor” over their affection for one another, before we desperately want to scream “get on with it already” at our television screens or simply switch to something else.
The magic of Bridgerton’s first season was in its dexterity in balancing the outward prudity of the Regency era with its raunchy underbelly. At the end of season two’s finale, the show seems to realize that the balance is off; it throws in a scene of Anthony and Kate, newly married, canoodling on gorgeous white sheets. When the newlyweds go down to greet the family members who are waiting for them, they make jokes about their lateness, and even consider going back upstairs to pick up where they left off. Watching these scenes, you can’t help but imagine the Bridgerton producers attempting to cram as much flirty fun as possible into the season’s final moments, realizing that they may have leaned too heavily into the Anthony and Kate’s Taming of the Shrew dynamic for too long.
Surely, filming season two during COVID made it more difficult to film intimate scenes, with most actors and crew having to stay six feet apart. But by design, this season was always more about the sexiness of restraint than the sexiness of, well, sex. While some may appreciate the purity and prudity of season two, many will find that Bridgerton didn’t turn up the heat until the bitter end. And unfortunately, this makes for a rather boring Bridgerton—which, as Lady Whistledown will tell you, is the biggest sin of them all.
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