After causing a sensation with its (somewhat overrated) first season, “Bridgerton” returns, faced with the task of polishing a new diamond and mounting another grand romance. Deprived the company of the Duke (with Regé-Jean Page having opted to move on), the series remains frothy and watchable, if perhaps a bit less Lady Whistledown-worthy in this latest iteration.
With Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) having married the Duke (who is conveniently away during her relatively few scenes), the matchmaking mania shifts to her brother Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), who has committed himself to getting married in this latest season of matrimonial mischief.
Early on, Anthony has a chance meeting with Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), who is newly returned to England with her younger sister, Edwina (Charithra Chandran), and their mother (Shelley Conn).
Like Anthony (a.k.a. the Viscount), Kate has thrown her efforts into providing for her family, in this case, by securing her sister the most advantageous match, with no thought of her own nuptials or happiness. The problem, telegraphed from that very first encounter, is her smoldering chemistry with Anthony, which bedevils and vexes them both, requiring all kinds of gymnastics in order to keep putting them together and pulling them apart.
“I find your opinion of yourself entirely too high,” Kate sneers at the viscount, although as anyone who has survived sixth grade knows, trading insults is often really just an awkward form of flirtation. Indeed, in the artfully structured world of “Bridgerton,” playing croquet becomes a mating ritual.
Different viewers’ mileage may vary, but the nature of that courtship doesn’t feel quite as swoon-worthy as season one, although Ashley and Chandran are fine additions to the cast.
Still, “Bridgerton” has plenty of other irons in the fire, beginning with the identity (revealed at the end of the first season) of the anonymous gossip known as Lady Whistledown, who has so irritated the Queen (Golda Rosheuvel) as to trigger a search to expose her. That creates complications for Penelope (Nicola Coughlan), the show’s most unique and intriguing character.
Most of the other wrinkles, frankly, including the machinations of Penelope’s devious mother, Lady Portia (Polly Walker), feel relatively pallid compared to those two primary prongs.
“Bridgerton” remains a cleverly conceived modern wrinkle on the Jane Austen formula, down to its anachronisms, like playing a musical version of Madonna’s “Material Girl” as accompaniment for a debutante ball.
Arguably, though, the series became a media sensation as much because of the gravitational force that Netflix can bring to its launches as its merits. It also returns amid a boom time for such dramas, with HBO’s “The Gilded Age” just completing its first season and PBS having salvaged “Sanditon,” an adaptation of an unfinished Austen novel that caused its own lesser stir back in 2020 and, like “Bridgerton,” has lost its dashing leading man.
On the plus side for Netflix, “Bridgerton” comes back as an established commodity, with all the media exposure that entails. And if the show can generate anything close to the enthusiasm that greeted the first season, there are a whole lot of unmarried Bridgerton kids left to pair off.
“Bridgerton” begins its second season March 25 on Netflix.