Namratha Kethineni, Contributing Writer
Brimming with excitement and drama, the enchanting narrative of “Bridgerton” spread to TV screens everywhere this holiday season. According to CNET, “Netflix’s Bridgerton was watched by more than 82 million accounts in its first month, making the soapy period drama the service’s biggest series ever.” The show is based on Julia Quinn’s romance novels and was created by Chris Van Dusen, co-executive producer of the show along with Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” fame. Fundamentally, “Bridgerton” has gained immense popularity for containing relevant subject matter that is impactful, broadly relatable, and truly captivating to young people today.
The eight-part Netflix drama stars Regé-Jean Paige as Simon Bassett and Phoebe Dynever as Daphne Bridgeton and is set in England during the Regency Period. It follows Simon and Daphne’s riveting love story through various complications such as public image, family dynamics, and personal baggage. Fancy balls with beautiful music and lights act as signature elements of the story, while an anonymous female newspaper writer captures the highs and lows of the lives of the characters. The show also challenges the expectations of the period in which it is set with an organic portrayal of intimacy between Daphne and Simon, leaving viewers wanting more.
The show also portrays young women who speak up for their beliefs, spotlights a powerful family of color fighting to maintain their power, challenges a social order that does not allow people who love each other to be together, and much more. Comprehensively, this combination of elements seems to have touched young people across the nation.
Olive Epee, a sophomore biology major at USF, said, “I was intrigued by everyone’s obsession over it.” Similarly, Shriya Yegalapati, a junior finance major at San Francisco State University, said, “I heard about the show via TikTok and friends, and it seemed to be trending everywhere.” Meenu Ramasamy, a neuroscience major at the University of Pittsburgh, said she started watching because she had several people recommend it to her. Additionally, “Bridgerton”” premiered on Christmas Day 2020, which meant many people could binge watch the series without school or work getting in the way of the experience.
Though “Bridgerton” was easy enough to hear about, students found plenty of reasons to watch the series all the way through. Yegalapati said, “I started watching out of boredom but later realized that I relate to the ethics of marriage portrayed because my Indian cultural roots seemed identical.” Yegalapati said she was intrigued to watch Daphne’s romantic journey unfold because she related to the pressure Daphne faced from her elders to be available for men to pursue. Elements of who Daphne was trying to be for others in her community, instead of for herself, are consistent with perceptions of an ideal Indian daughter, in Yegalapati’s opinion.
Pouring over the nature of the characters, gossiping about the steamy scenes of romance, and critiquing portrayals of race, gender equality, and social hierarchy, have become popular among the viewers of the show. Other prominent English period dramas like “Downton Abbey” and “The Crown” have had all-white casts; in contrast, “Bridgerton” has been praised for its diverse cast. However, fellow period pieces “Hamilton” and “Mary Queen of Scotts” paved the way for “Bridgerton” to do so, even in the face of critique about historical accuracy.
“Unlike in reality, then and today, no one paid mind to the fact that the duke [Regé-Jean Paige] was Black. They made sure race wasn’t a factor in Daphne’s decision to like him,” Epee said. Moreover, the timing of the show’s release, after a summer of social upheaval regarding racial injustice around the world, presented a unique opportunity for conversations surrounding it because the social issues “Bridgerton” addresses throughout its episodes resonate with a diverse range of viewers. “It was interesting to see a mix of race [among the cast], as most vintage-set shows don’t portray people of color as being highly positioned in society,” Yegalapati said. “It was refreshing.”
Within the last year, there has been a surge of accountability for injustice and demand for equality in various mediums such as the Washington Post and Instagram. Consequently, Bridgerton provides a quick getaway from reality with a focus on important social topics (race, gender equality, social status) for an overall enjoyable and relatable experience for the masses.