Bridgerton Season 3 Part 1 on Netflix review: the formula of this Regency romp is wearing decidedly thin

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every runaway regency hit will be sequelled into oblivion – and such is the case with Bridgerton, which is now back for its third season (not counting its spinoff series Queen Charlotte).

To qualify, this is season three, part one – part two drops a month later, for maximum effect. With different characters taking centre stage each series, this time it’s the turn of Penelope Featherington and Colin Bridgerton (Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton) to take the spotlight. Their relationship (known by devoted followers of the books as ‘Polin’) is a fan favourite and expectations ahead of the show were high.

So are the obstacles standing in the way of true love. Penelope is a self-confessed “wallflower” who is on the out with her former best friend Eloise (Claudia Jessie) after being discovered as the poison-quilled gossip Lady Whistledown, whose acerbic voiceovers accompany the start and end of every episode.

She’s also unmarried, and in the world of Regency England, that means trouble. So what better way to fix that than by enlisting her former friend Colin to train her in the arts of finding a husband... while also hiding her secret double life from him.

As a plot device, it’s as transparent as they come, but it does its job of bringing the two together and is soon followed by the requisite yearning glances as they attempt to come to terms with their feelings for each other.

Glow up... Nicola Coughlan as Penelope (LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX)
Glow up... Nicola Coughlan as Penelope (LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX)

As might be evident from the above, season three offers audiences little in the way of plot novelty – though Colin and Pen do both get glow-ups (hooray for the removal of Colin’s sideburns, and farewell the hideous yellow of Penelope’s old dresses).

This time, he’s the most “eligible bachelor of the season”, smouldering his way around town like a have-a-go Heathcliff, doing heroic things like stopping a runaway hot air balloon and biting back at his louche friends when they make sexist jokes… and she’s moping around balls trying to snag a suitor, most notably the rather boring Lord Debling (Sam Phillips).

Gender equality this is not, but at least Coughlan and Newton have good chemistry. After season one’s raunch and season two’s, erm, lack of it, season three finds a middle ground in the form of Colin bedding foreign women and casting big puppy eyes towards Penelope (we presume the sex will feature in the latter half of the season, which drops on June 13). And of course, the costumes are as gorgeous as ever: watching pastel ballgowns swirl across a dancefloor never gets old.

With all that to be getting on with, there’s still time to squeeze in a few subplots, which land with varying degrees of success. Younger Bridgerton sibling Francesca makes her debut this season and is played by Hannah Dodd with all the personality of a teaspoon.

Her supposed struggles to find a husband are decidedly bland, but spare a thought for Simone Ashley’s combative Kate, who is reduced to an even blander ‘happy wife’ stereotype who does very little except coo at her husband Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) and bare her neck for sloppy kisses.

Nicola Coughlan and Sam Phillips as Penelope and Lord Debling (LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX)
Nicola Coughlan and Sam Phillips as Penelope and Lord Debling (LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX)

Thank goodness, then, that the older women’s performances are still so great. Golda Rosheuvel vamps her way around the screen with relish as the calculating Queen Charlotte (this time in possession of a truly magnificent clockwork wig), while Ruth Gemmell gets her own story arc in the form of a new romance for her eternally bereaved character Violet.

But three seasons in, the Bridgerton formula is wearing thin: can you tell? The plot beats are predictable (the old gambit of entering a room just as somebody says the wrong thing is getting old fast), the romance feels copy and paste and they all live happily ever after.

But do viewers care? Even if newcomers will struggle, the fans will lap it up. This is still wildly addictive viewing, the TV equivalent of a 1 am Maccies: it won’t leave you satiated, but it sure tastes good while it lasts.

Bridgerton season 3, part 1 is streaming now on Netflix. Part two will air on June 13