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Refreshing representation, steamy sexual tension: 'Bridgerton' season 2 has it all

Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley star in season two of "Bridgerton" as the charming Anthony Bridgerton and Kate Sharma.  – Photo by Bridgerton / Twitter

The “Bridgerton” series premiered in late 2020 on Netflix and has since enraptured audiences with its depictions of sex, scandal and status, as aptly put by a review of the first season in The Daily Targum.

The Regency-era show, produced by Shonda Rhimes and based on the historical romance novel series by Julia Quinn, was an instant hit and is best known for its raunchy take on romantic tropes and diverse representation of high society archetypes.

The first season centered around the story of Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, (Regé-Jean Page) and the inevitable romantic conclusion of the fake relationship they concoct.

Season two, which premiered on March 25, follows the relationship between the oldest Bridgerton sibling, Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey), and a new member of the ton, Kathani "Kate" Sharma (Simone Ashley).

“Bridgerton,” in all its escapism and allure, finds itself at the intersection of shows like “Gossip Girl,” movies like “The Princess Diaries” and Jane Austen novels like “Pride & Prejudice.” Much like the familiar voice of Kristen Bell in “Gossip Girl,” the charming Julie Andrews narrates the exciting prose written by Lady Whistledown.

Whistledown, an anonymous public figure and writer of a popular society newsletter, plagues the people of the ton with her ability to report the most jaw-dropping gossip about elite families participating in the annual debutante season.

The dramatic irony of the first season is that while we as viewers came to know Whistledown’s true identity in the finale, the rest of the ton remains unaware of how the writer has systematized her storytelling against the ladies and lords of London’s exclusive high society.

All your favorite characters from season two also have substantial storylines this season, including Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh), Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan), Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) and your favorite Bridgertons, including Violet (Ruth Gemmell), Eloise (Claudia Jessie) and Benedict (Luke Thompson).

Andoh and Gemmell play especially strong matriarchal figures this season, but the Featherington family and its financial woes have a bit more screen time in season two than most fans of the show would care for.

The central romance of “Kanthony” exceeds the expectations of what the first season promised, cleverly using narrative devices like the enemies-to-lovers trope and the ever-frustrating “slow burn” take on love to generate fiery chemistry in every scene.

Both Kate and Anthony are obstinate older siblings who bear a lot of familial responsibility and let their selflessness cloud their own happiness, which makes for some palpable tension throughout their love story. A very common subtitle you may see this season is “[heavy breathing].”

Another romance trope added to the mix is that of a classic love triangle between Anthony, Kate and Kate’s younger sister, Edwina (Charithra Chandran). While the tangled and forbidden situations that these characters find themselves in are extremely anxiety-inducing, you can’t help but keep your eyes glued to the screen. I binged the entire show overnight in 8 hours.

Bailey and Ashley deliver stellar performances, with many of the viscount’s lines evoking the heart-stopping quality of the character Darcy from the 2005 “Pride & Prejudice” film.

Bailey embodies the quintessential period drama hero and particularly leaves one stunned when Anthony poetically says to Kate, “You are the bane of my existence and the object of all my desires.”

While the viscount was labeled a frivolous capital-R Rake (a Regency-era “player”) last season, he redeems himself by loving with his whole heart this season. Bailey also has a rich background in theater and is even currently starring alongside Taron Egerton in the play “Cock” in London's West End.

While many viewers were disappointed that this season was less steamy than the last, the show’s creator Chris Van Dusen noted that explicit sex scenes weren’t integral to the story of Kanthony and the emotional intimacy between them.

If you’ve found yourself on Bridgerton TikTok, the countless scenes of pining, yearning and longing stares between Kate and Anthony have been frequently edited by fans to songs like “Speak Now” by Taylor Swift and “Satisfied” from Broadway’s “Hamilton.”

Perhaps the best takeaway for me from season two of “Bridgerton” is its nuanced and genuine representation of South Asian, particularly Indian, culture. While the love interest in the book is a white woman named Kate Sheffield, Quinn has enthusiastically welcomed more diverse interpretations to her books and has supported how Netflix and Shondaland adapted the fictional world of “Bridgerton” to be more multicultural.

The show addresses colonialism without over-exoticizing the Sharma sisters and the culture they come from, and their representation also speaks to the strong South Asian diasporic presence in the U.K. today.

The show takes cues from the filmy romances straight out of Bollywood, even alluding to the title song of the 2001 hit film “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” in an instrumental cover adapted for the show's Regency setting.

Other nods to Indian culture and femininity include the pre-wedding Haldi ceremony, Kate Sharma’s pouch of cardamom pods and cloves to add to bland British tea, and the incorporation of South Asian textile traditions to 19th century British fashion.

There are white empire waist dresses with embroidery reminiscent of chikankari work, paisley pashmina shawls, lusciously patterned and jewel-toned silks, gold jhumkas and a fated pair of gold and emerald bangles pivotal to the story as just some of the culturally attuned style choices made by the show’s costuming team.

Kate’s accent, British with a noticeably Indian lilt, is something that I really loved hearing. In many shows produced in the West, South Asian characters are often given caricatured accents and stereotyped as awkward nerds for racist, comical ends that are not even a little funny. It's extremely refreshing to see the Sharma sisters unapologetically lean into the beauty of South Asian heritage and womanhood.

On the salient issue of colorism, the first season of “Bridgerton” was rightfully criticized for casting predominantly light-skinned Black primary cast members and thus catering to norms of visual culture that privilege whiteness and those who are deemed palatable enough to be in proximity to it.

Season two constructively draws from this criticism in casting Ashley and Chandran, who are both of darker skin tones and have families hailing from the state of Tamil Nadu in South India.

Bollywood and the South Asian media industry more generally today still create content with a colorist lens and fail to see darker-skinned women as heroines in the same capacity as lighter-skinned women. The Sharma sisters, who are never tokenized or ghettoized for their skin color as leading ladies in the show, represent a step in the right direction for substantive diversity in mainstream media.

“Bridgerton” has been renewed by Netflix for a third and fourth season after the success of Kanthony’s story and will likely follow the love stories of the Bridgerton brothers born after Anthony, Benedict and Colin Bridgerton. It's set for release as soon as mid-2023.

But for now, season two was an exceptional watch and sets the bar high for what is to come in the future.

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