Saturday, May 28, 2022

‘Bridgerton’ Season 2 Review: Even Better Than the First (Spoiler-Free)

After making waves as one of Netflix’s most popular television series ever following the premiere of its first season, audiences have been waiting with bated breath to see just how well the upcoming second season of Bridgerton will stack up in comparison to its predecessor. With less than a week to go until the historical drama returns for another exciting, romantic, and scandalous social season for the ton, I come bearing good tidings: Bridgerton season 2 is absolutely brilliant … and it’s even better than the first.

Bridgerton is based on author Julia Quinn’s book series, and while several changes were made to the story when adapting it for the screen, a key part of the blueprint remained: the focus on specific couples. Each book follows the love life of one of the eight Bridgerton children, bringing them to the forefront of the story while their siblings become supporting characters. So whereas the first season followed the courtship of Daphne and Simon Basset, season 2 shifts the focus to Anthony and Kate Sharma.

News of Regé-Jean Page’s departure from Bridgerton, after tying off the love story of the duke and duchess, rocked fans to their core, and many were left wondering how that would change the overall dynamic of the show moving forward. It was certainly unfortunate not to see the Duke of Hastings appear alongside his wife as an occasional guest star at the very least — his absence can indeed be felt — but rest assured that this ultimately does not deter from the overall excellence of the second season, not in the slightest.

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Jonathan Bailey takes the reins this season as we dive into the love life of Anthony Bridgerton, a man who ominously vowed at the end of season 1 to denounce the notion of romance altogether in order to focus on his familial duties as the viscount. Bailey’s character was a prominent player in the first season, but most of his enigmatic storyline was dedicated to sternly orchestrating Daphne’s future in between spicy trysts with his secret lover, Siena. Now, in season 2, Bailey is given the opportunity to dig into the much deeper layers that reside within Anthony, and he does so with an undeniably impressive range. Whereas Bailey proved to be a solid, promising member of the cast when the show premiered, he has now far surpassed that observation this point, confidently staking his claim as an utterly captivating lead actor that effortlessly carries the show in its sophomore season.

Channeling his inner Mr. Darcy, Bailey’s performance as Anthony Bridgerton is one that will not soon be forgotten. Donning a swoon-worthy trifecta of deeply impassioned line delivery, meticulous and intimate body language, and facial expressions that will leave viewers weak in the knees, Bailey has arguably set a new standard for men in romance stories — television and films alike. Bailey lays himself bare in season 2 (well, metaphorically and literally, truth be told), stripping down Anthony’s hardened walls to their raw and honest core and giving way to an achingly authentic display of emotional vulnerability.

Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma in Bridgerton
Liam Daniel/Netflix

Joining the show this season to go toe-to-toe with Bailey’s Anthony Bridgerton is Simone Ashley, who portrays Kate Sharma. Bridgerton has never had a shortage of strong female characters, but Ashley’s Kate is truly a force to be reckoned with as she steps into the spotlight at the forefront of this next chapter. There’s no doubt at all that she’ll become an instant fan favorite before audiences have even made a dent in their binge of season 2. In comparison to her sunny, cheerful younger sister Edwina (who’s played by the lovely Charithra Chandran — another splendid performance), Kate approaches life in a much more deliberate, serious manner. Ashley confidently commands attention in her scenes as she brings Kate to life.

And what do you get when you put these two talented leads together? In the case of Bailey and Ashley, the result is shared scenes that are laden with heated, tangible chemistry that becomes downright scorching after as little as a mere glance. For all that Bailey dishes out as Anthony, Ashley’s Kate gracefully tosses it back at him without missing a single beat — their banter is unmatched. From the moment that Anthony and Kate first cross paths, there’s an electric undercurrent that begins to buzz between them, one that will leave audiences breathless time and time again until their carefully choreographed dance around one another reaches an intense boiling point and spills over.

Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma, Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in Bridgerton
Liam Daniel/Netflix
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Moving on from season 1’s delightfully fun fake dating trope, season 2 of Bridgerton ups the ante with the ultimate enemies-to-lovers tale, presenting audiences with a delicious slow burn that has a very gratifying payoff (it’s more than worth the wait). Despite the new story, viewers can rest assured that the second season of Bridgerton still readily provides more of what everyone loved so much the first time around — like charming classical covers of modern songs, beautiful costumes and sets, Regency era Gossip Girl vibes, even more fabulous wigs from Queen Charlotte (though some other characters’ wigs could have used a bit more work), and (of course) the show’s trademark sexy spice. Intriguing side plots also continue to unravel alongside the main love story, with particular interest garnered this season from compelling performances by Claudia Jessie as Eloise and Luke Thompson as Benedict. And despite the departure of the Duke of Hastings, Lady Danbury is still ever present in the story, and Adjoa Andoh is in fine form as the spry, witty woman.

But beyond all of that, there’s an important change that plays heavily into why this season is such a vast improvement on season 1: the show has matured. Season 2’s overall themes, underlying messages, and various character dynamics feel far more meaningful and refined in comparison to some of the more tiresome and problematic events that took place in the show’s first season (because it was fun, but it wasn’t without its faults). This utterly enjoyable and entertaining season eventually comes to a close with an uplifting, satisfying finale, which simultaneously plants tantalizing seeds for what’s yet to come. The future of Bridgerton looks bright.

Season 2 of Bridgerton will begin streaming exclusively on Netflix on March 25. Make sure to follow along with our episodic recaps after the premiere!

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