Bridgerton, the first Shonda Rhimes show to hit Netflix, dares to ask: “What if a Jane Austen-style period drama…but softcore porn?”
The smash hit series, executive produced by Rhimes, created by Chris Van Dusen, and based on the romance novels by Julia Quinn, doesn’t so much mimic Austen as it parodies our cultural fantasies about rich Brits in the late 18th century. The show cheerfully maximizes everything that’s beloved in period piece fantasies—the mansions are grander, the balls are more decadent, the marriage market is a human stock market, and coy glances have been replaced with slurp-y cunnilingus.
Yes! Gen X had Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy emerging dripping from a lake in a soaked white shirt in BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Millennials had the erotic thrill of seeing Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Bennet grasp her Mr Darcy’s hand in the 2005 version. And Gen Z, bless them, has a Duke eating out a lady on a staircase.
Over the course of a London season, we follow Daphne Bridgerton, a gentleman’s daughter in want of a husband. She finds herself tangled with the roguish Simon, Duke of Hastings under the watchful but anonymous gaze of “Lady Whistledown,” a Regency-era Gossip Girl. Together, the lovers show a new generation of historical romance fans that sex is a passionate four-second-long event that cannot get you pregnant as long as you use the pull-out method.
Each Bridgerton sex scene feels like a build up of all the moments the cameras never quite let us see in Grey’s on-call rooms and Scandal’s Oval Office. Yes, multiple times throughout the show I thought I was watching growing sexual tension between two characters only to realize they were siblings. But when the actual couples have sex, it is candle-lit! Romantic! And absolutely, charmingly misleading.
Shall we dive in, dear reader?
Episode 1, Backstage Shame Sex (2/10)
But 15 minutes into the first episode, Bridgerton makes one thing clear: We’re not on ABC anymore. This is Netflix, and you should expect sex groans, conveniently billowing sheets, and glorious side boob. Kicking things off is toxically masculine eldest brother Anthony. He is having a secret affair with opera singer Siena, while telling his sisters that a single open-mouthed kiss makes a woman a defiled hag. Every Bridgerton son has Panic! At the Disco hair and weird sexual proclivities, and Anthony is no exception. Do not have one-sided fantasy sex with this hypocritical fictional character.
A Note On Episode 2
There is no sex in episode two, but there is a moment of foreshadowing. The Duke tells Daphne, “If I were truly courting you I would not need flowers, only five minutes alone with you in a drawing room.” In my notes, I wrote “Underestimate?” Reader: As the show goes on to prove, no, this is not an underestimate.
Episode 3, Hand Touching Sex (8/10)
This is not a sex scene; it is a scene where Daphne and the Duke touch hands while looking at a painting. Still. It is very nice.
Episode 3, Solo Sex (7/10)
One theme of Bridgerton is that the young women literally do not know what sex is or how human life is propagated, while the men are fucking everything that is not tied down. Daphne’s knowledge of what people do “at night” stops at kissing, so she petitions the Duke for information. He gives her vague directions to “touch yourself” and if it feels good “carry on with that.” Daphne masturbates in her Anthropologie store-themed bedroom, and we fly in her mind through a series of beautiful and weirdly hot memories of the Duke touching her back. A close-up of her pre-climax face then cuts to a shot of her playing piano, smiling slyly as she lifts her fingers off the keys. “You finished. How lovely,” her mom says, a horrifying creative decision that will be discussed by entertainment scholars for centuries to come.
Episode 4, Garden Makeout (9/10)
This is not a sex scene, but it is a surprisingly wild first kiss, considering that its price turns out to be: Get married against your will, or her life will be ruined and he will be shot. Nevertheless, we see: Hand on butt! Hand on side boob! Petticoats hoisted up to the mid-shin area! Then, we have makeoutus interruptus, thanks to another family member. Weird choice to bring the family into a sexual moment again, but okay!
Episode 4, Anthony and Siena’s Pre-Death Bang (2/10)
Anthony wants one more for the road before he shoots his best friend for kissing his sister (toxic masculinity and haircut anxiety strikes again), so he grabs Siena by the throat and smashes his face into hers. It could be hot, but their power dynamic is so off—he’s made it clear that she’s an object he sees as pleasant but ultimately inferior.
Episode 5, Hallway Threesome (9/10)
The second-born Bridgerton son attends a party on the other side of the tracks, where artsy types are having a freewheeling orgy. Instead of freaking out about seeing two men have sex, he chooses to have a threesome in the hallway. For this reason, he is the coolest Bridgerton sibling.
Episode 5, Wedding Night Sex (8/10)
You know that thing of when you’re desperately in love with your new husband, and he’s desperately in love with you, but you both don’t tell each other because you’re both far too modest, and then you confess your feelings at the exact same time and have blissful missionary sex for 26 seconds in front of a roaring fire? It goes like this—Simon unhooks Daphne’s gown and unstrings her corset in the time it would take a 21st-century man to so much as locate the back of a bra. He asks for consent with genuine care, after which we are rewarded with a full, soft-focus shot of his butt. All of this is sadly overshadowed by the fact that Daphne doesn’t know what sex is and doesn’t find out until it is happening to her. Couldn’t he have drawn her a diagram or something? It saddens me to report that the Duke of Hastings would not make it in the competitive world of sex positive Instagram educators today. Luckily, unlike almost all human women, Daphne comes after having less than one minute of penetrative sex and almost no foreplay. They don’t call her “the season’s incomparable” for nothing.
Episode 6, Morning After Sex (9/10)
Lying in bed in their sprawling mansion, Simon drags Daphne’s hand down his bare chest and says, “You are the Duchess of all this.” Good for them!
Episode 6, Rain Sex (7/10)
Sim and Daph can’t make it through appetizers without nearly doing it in front of their staff, who are Definitely Not Being Paid Enough For This. Daphne does a sensual arm strip-tease. (Bring back elbow-length gloves, that we may all indulge in this!) They run outside in ecstasy and kiss up against what I hope is not a grave. An instantly iconic Vitamin String Quartet cover of “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift plays. It rains, which makes them laugh, gaily! They run into another structure, which I hope is not a mausoleum, and start hooking up on the ground.
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