Television Review: “Bridgerton”‘s Third Season — Let’s Hope for the Best

By Sarah Osman

It is early in the season and my heart is hopeful, dear reader, that Bridgerton will re-capture its former magic.

Luke Newton as Colin Bridgerton and Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in Season 3 of Bridgerton. Photo: NETFLIX

Dear Gentle Reader,

Society has returned to the ‘ton’ — the third season of Bridgerton, or at least its first half, just premiered. And, following in the mincing steps of its predecessors, the third season is filled with lush ball gowns, titillating gossip, and classical takes on pop songs (the most notable of which may be Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything.”) But, be warned — the third time is not a charm. Judging by what has come out so far, Bridgerton has grown rather weary, partly because it has increasingly become weighted down with courtships and the banal rules of a repressive society.

This season’s romance centers on Penelope Featherington (Nicola Coughlan) aka Lady Whistledown, and her inevitable decision to secure a husband. For years, Penelope has nursed a crush on Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton); alas, her longtime friend has been completely unaware of her romantic inclinations. Finally, finally, Colin realizes that oh, Penelope is hot, sweet, and would be the perfect partner. But Penelope is now being courted by the conventional Lord Debling (Sam Phillips), who just wants a wife to maintain his vast, vast, vast estate while he’s away.

Both Colin and Penelope receive glow ups: he has returned from his travels as a swashbuckling, dashing hero while Penelope has taken control of her wardrobe and knows that she looks absolutely gorgeous in pastel dresses. The dramatic snafu is that Penelope is far more interesting than Colin who, in an effort to ratchet up his cache, has reinvented himself as a bad boy. Brothel-hopping doesn’t fit Colin’s character, and it’s difficult to understand, even in this society, why Penelope would be so moved reading about his amorous adventures with beautiful French ladies. It’s even more difficult to understand why Penelope would need to take charm lessons from Colin — she already exudes considerably more charisma than he. I found herself rooting for Lord Debling to take the woman’s hand; after all, he is genuinely interested in Penelope and seems surprisingly progressive for a man of his time. This might be Penelope and Colin’s season, but we don’t spend enough time with them to make us care that they supposedly click. In previous seasons, plenty of time was spent letting viewers get to know the show’s romantic leads. But this season, it was an afterthought. The writers are phoning it in — before phones were invented.

Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington and Sam Phillips as Lord Debling in Bridgerton, Season 3. Photo: Liam Daniel / Netflix

Understandably, some of the other plotlines turn out to be far more enticing. Francesca Bridgerton (Hannah Dodd) makes her debut and she is quite different from her sisters. The character is quiet, likes to play the piano, and isn’t desperate to fall in love — she just wants to find a good match. She begins a sweet flirtation with another upper cruster who also enjoys the quiet: I wanted to see more of this couple. We are given snippets of Anthony and Kate — the leads of the second season — and the scenes are reminders of why they were such great leads. Eloise (Claudia Jessie) strikes up a friendship with Cressida (Jessica Madsen), a former bad girl who deserves the sympathy the storyline asks. As for pure comic relief, Penelope’s quirky sisters are hilarious doing their best to become pregnant. This supplied some desperately needed fun in the third season, given that we don’t get much of mushroom-poppin’, bohemian brother, Benedict.

Granted, this is the first half of the season, so perhaps things will change. The decision to divide the season in two was clearly made for monetary reasons. Chopping the action up definitely screws up the narrative pacing, a problem the other two seasons had. Previews suggest that more inviting interactions will take place in the second half. And that, of course, compels an embarrassing question: if the decision was always going to be to divide the season in two, why not spend more time deepening the connection between our two friends-turned-lovers? Perhaps some of the other plotlines, such as Francesca’s sweet romance, could have been spread out throughout the entire season.

Still, it is early in the season and my heart is hopeful, dear reader, that Bridgerton will re-capture its former magic.

Sarah Mina Osman is a writer residing in Wilmington, NC. In addition to writing for the Arts Fuse, she has written for Watercooler HQ, Huffington Post, HelloGiggles, Young Hollywood, and Matador Network, among other sites. Her work was included in the anthology Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era. She is currently a first-year fiction MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. When she’s not writing, she’s dancing, watching movies, traveling, or eating. She has a deep appreciation for sloths and tacos. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram: @SarahMinaOsman

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