They looked into each other’s eyes, rain pattering against the window, and when thunder cracked, she promptly fled the room. So goes the love story of “Bridgerton” season two, released Friday — a romance marked by brushing hands, longing glances, and a notably reduced amount of provocative content for the hit Netflix series. The decrease in sexual content was an abrupt change from the show’s previous pacing.
“There’s so much sexiness in just the looks across a room, and the hands grazing, and the fingers almost touching,” assured executive producer Chris Van Dusen. “You can really feel that build from episode to episode.”
Last season, the show broke Netflix records as the platform’s most-watched series, appearing in 82 million households in just one month. This one, trending No. 1 in the United States in less than 24 hours, is driven by the slow development of affection between the two romantic leads and largely platonic adventures for the rest of the supporting cast, with the occasional exception.
Leading characters Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley) spend the majority of their eight episodes dancing around each other in socially appropriate, biting conversation and trying to practice a lack of physical intimacy reminiscent of Jane Austen’s novels and the films that retold her stories.
The charm of this season is the same that makes the BBC’s and Joe Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice” films hallmarks of romance. Entertainment doesn’t require the sexual mania regularly produced by media to be engaging or even just interesting. The constant deluge of it makes viewers numb to increasingly graphic content and uninterested in remembering a time without it.
“The slow burn. The angst. The looks of longing. The banters,” wrote one fan of the new season. “Just beautiful.”
But as television produced by major streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime only continues to gain popularity, so does the commonality of oversexualized content.
“It’s all those subtleties,” noted film editor Paul Tothill of 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice.” But in pop culture’s current biggest hits, it’s about almost anything but subtlety.
The raving enjoyment of “Bridgerton,” Hulu’s “Normal People” and “Pam and Tommy,” or of HBO’s “Euphoria” displays how many consumers won’t think twice about sexually explicit content in a variety of television shows — even when it’s observed to be, as season one of “Bridgerton” was, essentially soft-core pornography. Some scenes from the show, as well as from “Normal People,” wound up circulating on pornographic websites, much to the chagrin of the actors and the contentment of marketing teams.
Sexual content becomes a cover charge up-and-coming media pays just to get in the door to sufficiently compete with the explicit content produced by streaming services. It’s easy to forget that just because something’s typical, doesn’t mean it should be.
Sure, “Bridgerton’s” style of entertainment is fun and supposedly of little significance. Supposedly, sexual content doesn’t have to be such a big deal.
But that meaninglessness indicates modern media engages none of the faculties art ought. There’s no employment of the imagination or unique mystery left in the end. The normalcy of explicit content in trending show after trending show just desensitizes the public to the fact that if sex sells, we’ve never been buying it more shamelessly than we do right now. Content loses itself in shocking nothingness, hidden behind scenes that play to the most base of human interests.
Viewers aren’t challenged to think too hard about what they’re absorbing. After all, there will surely be something onscreen in just a few minutes that numbs the mind and blurs the vision. Most entertainment is no longer about character interactions, clever dialogue, or consistent themes. It’s become entangled with nudity, shock factor, and other attempts at catching any kind of attention.
“Euphoria,” with its abundance of naked adults playing teenaged characters, and even season one of “Bridgerton,” whose first three minutes include a shot of one of the main characters having sex in public, conveys a kind of desperate plea from their makers: “Are you still watching?”
It’s Michael Scott shouting “SEX!” at the rest of his office to ensure he has everyone’s attention before proceeding with the real point — or, in the case of Netflix, even the possibility of a thoughtful plot. While Kevin’s all in (“You had me at sex,” he declares), Michael doesn’t quite convince Phyllis. “You had all of our attention just by screaming anything,” she says tiredly.
With the advent of “Bridgerton” season two’s new, Austenian waiting game, a streaming giant at last acknowledges consumers’ similar exhaustion at the overproduction of a modern, graphic romance-infused genre.