Netflix's Romance Series 'Bridgerton' Is So Stressful

The Shondaland drama is Reason Number One why I would never live in the Regency era.

netflix bridgerton
Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor | Liam Daniel/Netflix
Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor | Liam Daniel/Netflix

You know that question that people sometimes ask, perhaps on a first date or at a work retreat: If you could live in any other time period, which would you choose? It is my ironclad opinion that anyone who does not immediately laugh in that person's face and maybe splash their drink down the back of their shirt in disdain is a complete psycho with zero notion of historical fact. It is consensus amongst many of the world's social scientists and modern billionaires that today's age (global pandemic notwithstanding) is the best time in human history, for most people, especially in the Western world, to be alive.

Just take in the sheer scope of human history. Fighting territorial wars and enslaving the losers was a fairly common practice until recently. People died from stuff as avoidable as dysentery and as common as, well, the common cold. It took a while for us to figure out that if we didn't bring limes along on lengthy sea voyages that our bodies would start to eat themselves from the inside out. Women barely had rights comparable to men until the latter part of the 20th century, and that's saying nothing about anyone, man or woman, who wasn't white.

All of this is to say that if I woke up one morning and found myself magically transported to, say, early 19th-century England, I would find the nearest wind-tossed sea and dramatically throw myself into it. Netflix's new steamy romance series Bridgerton has done nothing but cement this notion further into my head.

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Bridgerton, which is the first show released on Netflix produced by Shonda Rhimes after her headline-making exclusive deal with the company, is set in the early-1800s period known as the Regency, during the Austen-Brontë stretch of time when English society's structure was rigid, corsets were tight, and marriage was the Number One priority of any woman considered of age. Among the luckier aristocratic classes—referred to in the show as "the ton"—girls of marriageable age were paraded around high society during the "season" when young ladies would present themselves at social events and hold audiences with gentleman callers in their palatial homes. You could go steady with one, but would still be obliged to field calls from others, and both men and women were skilled in trapping each other in a marriage one of them may be reluctant to accept.

In other words, a recipe for some of the most stressful TV I have ever watched. Bridgerton, which was created by longtime Grey's Anatomy and Scandal writer Chris Van Dusen, stars Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne Bridgerton, the eldest girl of the Bridgerton household who is debuting in her first season. After winning the favor of the Queen (Golda Rosheuvel), she's beset from all sides by suitors, some more savory than others, but all are turned away by her controlling older brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey).

Soon enough, Daphne meets the roguish Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), who has no interest at all in marriage but must find a way to get around his pushy relatives intent on securing the dukedom's future. So, the two hatch a plan: pretend to be courting each other, which will take Simon off the market and make Daphne more desirable to her suitors once again. Complicating matters, however, is the ever-watchful eye of Lady Whistledown (voiced by narrator Julie Andrews), the mysterious unknown author of a weekly society pamphlet regularly exposing the petty deceits and lies the savvy members of society hide behind.

Golda Rosheuvel as The Queen | Liam Daniel/Netflix

It's a plot taken from the juiciest fan fiction, or the most veteran of romance authors (Bridgerton is based on the bestselling series by Julia Quinn). The sets are lavish, the costumes are gorgeous, the dialogue is pithy and sharp. It also had me so stressed out I had to walk around my house for 15 minutes every time I finished an episode. In its tensest moments, of which there are at least three every episode, Bridgerton is Pride and Prejudice meets the third act of Uncut Gems, characters pinballing around English high society, playing emotion games and exposing secrets and generally making each other completely miserable as only bored people in possession of extreme wealth can. It's ridiculous—and completely addicting.

It's also groundbreaking in two ways. This is one of the most racially diverse casts I've ever seen in this kind of setting, immediately putting to bed the notion that "historical accuracy" is inherently exclusive. It's also a very, very hot show that, contrary to the era it's representing, has a distinctly modern sensibility about sexuality. One episode includes a lengthy scene in which one of the main characters teaches the other how to touch herself, and there are racy montages all over the place—soundtracked by, in a very fun detail, the Vitamin String Quartet's chamber renditions of Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift—allowing the show's straitlaced characters to go wild every once in a while, further revealing their standards for how ladies and gentlemen should comport themselves to be a complete sham.

Naturally, every escapade leads to some cutting remark from an enemy, causing the characters to go into hysterics once again about hiding their behavior from the watchful eyes of their peers, and then all that tension boils over once more, and round and round it goes. Keep the smelling salts close at hand.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.