Bridgerton season 3, part 1 review: The Netflix phenom loses its lusty spark

The series returns with a lazy, uninspiring take on historical romance

Bridgerton season 3, part 1 review: The Netflix phenom loses its lusty spark
Luke Netwon and Nicola Coughlan in Bridgerton Photo: Liam Daniel/Netflix

You know how, during the COVID lockdown, we all collectively got obsessed with Tiger King? And now we’re all collectively a little embarrassed to have liked Tiger King that much, because Tiger King isn’t that good? Bridgerton was a later lockdown phenomenon, a canceled-Christmas gift from Netflix that brought some heat to a cold winter. Something about the strict rules of society in Regency England spoke to us at a time when our own socializing came with a lot of restrictions, and the forbidden sexiness of the couples’ courtships was particularly tantalizing in isolation. But almost four years and three very short seasons in, Bridgerton seems to have lost its shine. It makes you wonder, was Bridgerton ever actually good?

The third season of Bridgerton (which releases its first four episodes on May 16, with the last four arriving on June 13) focuses on the love story of Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) and his longtime friend Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan). Colin being possibly the dullest Bridgerton brother and Penelope being the occasional villain of the story, their romance can be hard to root for. The chemistry between Newton and Coughlan doesn’t exactly live up to the standards set in the previous seasons, either. But the rot of Bridgerton goes much deeper than its leads.

Period inaccuracies that may have appeared sly and clever in season one are tired by this point. The costumes are gaudy and garish; Penelope’s style may improve with her classic romantic makeover, but her gowns still look as cheap as everyone else’s. (And where to even begin with Cressida Cowper’s bizarre, ugly hair-hats?) The string covers of pop music that caused such a stir when the series first premiered now induce eye-rolls. If anything, they distract from the action; it takes a moment to figure out what song is playing, and then to figure out, more often than not, that the song has nothing to do with the scene at hand.

Bridgerton has always played fast and loose with genre conventions, but this season underlines the show’s apathy towards what makes a Regency romance compelling. Historical inaccuracy is all well and good—Bridgerton’s diverse casting still lends a refreshing richness to its cast—but genre inaccuracy misses the point of the period setting. Why, for instance, would Anthony let Francesca (Hannah Dodd) wander off by herself at a ball, especially when doing so caused so much trouble for Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor)? The amount of unmarried men and women alone together dilutes the delicious tension that is inherent to the strict rules of propriety they are supposedly meant to follow.

Similarly, the trademark Shonda Rhimes Powerful Female Character starts to feel off-kilter in this setting. Lady Bridgerton (Ruth Gemmell) is “not like other moms,” because she wants her children to marry for love, not status. But she’s still obsessed with marrying her kids off and currying favor with Queen Charlotte, even though that route is an obvious bid for status over love. So her motives come across as confused. And the queen herself (Golda Rosheuvel), whose comic imperiousness was a highlight in previous seasons, is reduced to having an obsession with matchmaking that frankly seems beneath her station. She’s not even that good at matchmaking, and the plot lines more often than not revolve around defying the queen in some way, undercutting whatever power she’s supposed to have.

Compounding this problem is that Bridgerton struggles to make anything outside its main romance interesting, particularly this time around. A subplot meant to bring the working-class Mondriches (Martins Imhangbe and Emma Naomi) closer into the fold is ridiculous and torpedoes the momentum of the series every time it shifts focus back to the happy young couple. An attempt to spark some romance for Lady Bridgerton is well-meaning but not particularly fascinating. And fan-favorite couple Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate (Simone Ashley) are rendered entirely useless, so much so that one wonders why the actors bothered to show up. (First-season stars Dynevor and Regé-Jean Page are long gone.)

Bridgerton Season 3 | Official Trailer | Netflix

Still, season three is not completely devoid of pleasures. Nicola Coughlan is still delightful, although the comedic talents she revealed in Derry Girls are mostly wasted here. (Opportunities to flex those muscles do arise, but Bridgerton’s version of comedy barely scratches the surface of what she’s capable of.) The looming threat of Lady Whistledown’s true identity being revealed sets the stakes for the season, laying the groundwork for serious conflict for Penelope and Eloise (Claudia Jessie) and Penelope and Colin, who still hasn’t forgiven Whistledown’s past offenses. And newcomer Hanah Dodd is the second coming of Phoebe Dynevor, shining in her role as the latest Bridgerton debutante (even if it’s hard to swallow this beautiful, charming actor as the shy and reticent character Francesca is supposed to be).

Overall, however, Bridgerton has lost its charm, at least in part because Newton lacks the charisma of his male-hero predecessors. The sex scenes don’t evoke the same thrill they once did—and maybe, looking back, that was more the thrill of something new, not Bridgerton actually being good at depicting sex. Colin has multiple three-way encounters with prostitutes, clearly meant to demonstrate his sexual viability but it all comes across as laughable instead. This season has heat, sure, and there’s something rewarding about seeing an unconventional romantic lead like Coughlan experiencing pleasure on screen. But with so many great examples of sexual tension and explosive first kisses in media this summer (Challengers, The Idea Of You), one of Bridgerton’s primary selling points—its horniness!—just lacks a lusty spark this time around.

The fandom around Bridgerton proves that the appetite is there for sexy historical romance, but what Netflix offers today is the most lazy, uninspiring version possible. This author is a documented fan of a romantic formula, and the historical romance genre is just brimming with untapped potential. But since two years have passed between seasons, it’s worth asking, was Bridgerton worth the wait? Not really, no. And maybe it never was.

Bridgerton season 3, part 1 premieres May 16 on Netflix

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