If you’ve spent any amount of time online in the past few weeks, you’ve likely heard one thing or another about Netflix’s newest hit show Bridgerton. The Netflix Original is based on an eight-book series by historical romance veteran Julia Quinn. According to Netflix, the show has garnered 82 million viewers since its release just over a month ago. These numbers are to make Bridgerton go down in history as the streaming service’s most-watched original series to date.
Bridgerton has several executive producers, such as Shonda Rhimes, creator of quite a few now-infamous television series, namely Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. The behind-the-scenes celebrity signed an eight-show agreement with Netflix back in 2018, of which Bridgerton is the first.
The adaptation follows several of this fictional Regency England’s most influential aristocratic families, including Daphne Bridgerton, played by Phoebe Dynevor, the show’s leading actress and The Duke of Hastings, and her love interest and co-star, played by Regé-Jean Page. The Duke and Daphne engage in a bout of fake courting, each with something to gain from the arrangement, while family members and friends grapple with their own mysteries, deceit and romantic entanglements.
Quinn has been writing novels for decades and is one of just a handful of authors whose names are listed in the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. The Duke and I—the first novel in the Bridgerton book series—is far from her first novel, but after this adaptation, it’s likely to go down as her most famous. Since the show’s debut, several of her books have graced bestseller lists across the country and the globe.
Recently, Bridgerton has gained the prestige of being Netflix’s biggest series release to date. The question, then, is why? Stranger Things certainly made a splash when it hit the scene in the summer of 2016. Tiger King seemed to be streaming in every household when quarantine began last spring. The Queen’s Gambit has garnered no small amount of publicity since its release this past October.
[bf_image id="nvhxg999h6z269j6p79jwt"] What makes Bridgerton so stand-out?
The show’s star-power isn’t particularly notable. Page previously played a supporting role in Rhimes’ For the People, which was canceled after just two seasons. Nicola Coughlan, who plays fan-favorite Penelope in Bridgerton, has a leading role in Derry Girls, another Netflix Original. Arguably the most household name in the entire series, Julie Andrews, is not even seen on-screen, narrating the series instead as the mysterious unknown Lady Whistledown.
It’s possible that the show came out at just the right time. The series released on Christmas Day, a holiday where almost everyone is at home, capping off a year where almost everyone was at home anyway.
The show also hits the spot for many romance fans. It can certainly be classified as a steamy series, with several different romantic storylines outside of the main couple. Not only are the relationships romantic, but arguably so is the setting: glamorous Regency England, with intricate costumes and decadent settings.
Combine this with what many viewers find refreshing: a cast that includes people of color in a setting where they are not typically allowed to exist, even in fiction. The original novels under Quinn weren’t nearly as inclusive – these changes are present in the TV show alone. The love interest, The Duke of Hastings, is Black, as are several other supporting characters. In some ways, Rhimes is doing something legendary by including people of color during a period of England where nonwhite citizens didn’t hold positions of power. However, some critics find that for all of Bridgerton’s supposed diversity, it falls on some of TV’s basic racist stereotypes.
It’s worth noting that not everyone agrees with the way Netflix portrays its own streaming figures. The service counts a show as being “watched” after two minutes of streaming. Additionally, these numbers aren’t verified by any independent company, and Netflix seems to pick and choose what statistics it seeks to publicize and when.
Still, the show’s popularity can’t be denied. Bridgerton’s success likely can’t be attributed to any one factor, but many: its unabashed catering to romance, its inclusive casting, its well-known executive producer, its social commentary, and likely due to its arrival during an arguably bleak time in modern history.
Lovers of the series may now rejoice: Netflix recently announced that Bridgerton will be returning for a second season. It is rumored to follow the love story of Anthony, the first of the Bridgerton brood. Since the original book series numbers eight, with each book following a different Bridgerton sibling, fans have their fingers crossed for seven more seasons to come.