‘Bridgerton’ Season 2 isn’t as horny as the first. Its creator explains the ‘slow burn’

A smiling man seated in a chair outdoors.
Chris Van Dusen, the creator, executive producer and showrunner of “Bridgerton,” at home in Los Angeles.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

This story contains spoilers for “Bridgerton” Season 2.

With the debut season of “Bridgerton,” creator and showrunner Chris Van Dusen had to live up to the expectations of loyal readers of the Julia Quinn novels on which the drama is based. With the Netflix sensation’s second season, that remains true — only now with the added expectations of some 82 million households.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t overwhelming, but in the best way possible,” Van Dusen says. “I hope the world responds to it and embraces it as much as they did in the first season. I say, ‘Bring on the pressure!’ I think the pressure worked in Season 1. It was only natural that certain expectations got placed on this show after the incredible success of the first season. That raised our profile.”

Following a triumphant debut that had fans obsessing over the love story between socialite Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and the brooding Duke of Hastings, a.k.a. Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), the Regency-era romance is back to make viewers swoon again, this time with a new couple — well, trio — at its center.

This season, which is based on Quinn’s book “The Viscount Who Loved Me,” puts the eldest Bridgerton sibling, Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), at the forefront, as he navigates his reluctant feelings for a new woman in town, Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), and a sense of duty to instead marry her sister, Edwina (Charithra Chandran).

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Van Dusen applied his years of drama training — meaning work at production company Shondaland — to “Bridgerton.” Straight out of USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program, the Maryland native landed a job as Shonda Rhimes’ assistant when “Grey’s Anatomy” was in development and internally known as “Sex in the Surgery.” He eventually transitioned into writing on “Grey’s Anatomy” and was co-executive producer of “Scandal” before developing “Bridgerton” as part of Rhimes’ lucrative overall deal at Netflix.

The first scripted series Van Dusen’s created, “Bridgerton” quickly earned the title of Netflix’s most-watched show ever — 82 million households in its first 28 days, according to the streamer’s own (unconfirmed) data — and scored 12 Emmy nominations, including outstanding drama series. And Netflix wasted little time finding ways to expand the universe: A limited prequel series based on the origins of Queen Charlotte, to be written by Rhimes, has already been ordered to series.

For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the series, though, Van Dusen‘s time as “Bridgerton” showrunner is coming to an end: For Season 3 he’ll pass the baton to fellow Shondaland veteran Jess Brownell, who will oversee the third and fourth installments. Van Dusen is currently co-writing and executive producing a TV adaptation of Adam Silvera’s bestselling YA novel “They Both Die at the End.”

“I felt like I needed to go off on my own a little bit and spread my wings,” he says.

“I’m certainly curious to see where the show goes,” he adds. “I’ve had a really specific creative vision for the series and I don’t think that vision would have been able to be translated if I didn’t put everything I had into this show. I’m a very involved, in-the-trenches showrunner. I was on set in the U.K. pretty much every day for these first couple seasons, overseeing things down to the smallest details. And there isn’t really a script that hasn’t been rewritten three, four, sometimes five, six times. And I say that because that’s the way it had to be in order to realize that singular, cohesive creative vision.”

Calling from London, where he was doing a round of press in the lead-up to the show’s splashy premiere event at the Tate Modern, Van Dusen spoke with The Times about moving beyond last season’s sizzling romance, taking a risk with the pacing of this season’s central romance, and the piece of advice from Rhimes that guides his storytelling.

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“The Duke of Hastings is very busy”

As the dashing Duke of Hastings, Page was crucial to the show’s success. While news of his departure may not have been a shock to readers of Quinn’s book series — nor for Page, who had signed on for a one-season arc — it still stunned fans of the show that some creative license wasn’t taken to extend his involvement.

I fell in love with Regé first season, as much as the world fell in love with him. So I knew that there would be a big segment of the audience that would naturally have this kind of gut reaction and miss him. “Bridgerton” is singular in the respect that it’s a show that changes its [focus on] characters every season and that was really part of the appeal of a project like this — being able to focus on new characters and new love stories every season and being able to bring it to a really satisfying conclusion in terms of giving these characters a happily-ever-after, which is what makes a romance novel a romance novel. It was incredibly refreshing that I didn’t have to think of all these other obstacles to keep our main love interests apart. I could come in there and kind of reinvent the show every season.

The first season ended with Daphne and Simon welcoming their first child, a son. The duke’s absence is acknowledged almost immediately in the Season 2 opener, with Daphne arriving solo to the Bridgerton home just in time for the presentation of her sister Eloise (Claudia Jesse). As the family scrambles to make the event, Daphne proclaims: “You do realize I left my husband and child at home for this?”

I feel like it was it was kind of natural, to be totally honest. It wasn’t that hard to explain. He’s a duke, the Duke of Hastings is very busy — he has estates to look after and country homes to visit and ancestral homes to go to — so it wasn’t that difficult to think of reasons why we weren’t seeing him onscreen. But that didn’t necessarily mean that he wasn’t a part of this world. Daphne mentioned him within the first few minutes of the season premiere and he’s referenced throughout the season.

Two women sitting on a sofa with a cute dog
Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran play the Sharma sisters in “Bridgerton.”
(Liam Daniel/Netflix)



“It is color-conscious”

The vibrant drama introduces the Sharmas, an Indian family made up of matriarch Mary (Shelley Conn), her daughter Edwina (Charithra Chandran) and her stepdaughter Kate (Simone Ashley), in Season 2. In the novel, Ashley’s character is named Kate Sheffield but she was renamed for the TV series. After setting sail from India, Mary and Kate arrive with the intention of finding Edwina a suitable match during the season with the help of Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh).

To me, Kate and Edwina and their mother, Mary, were always going to be of South Asian descent. They were always going to be from India. Part of that was — and I’ve said this many times before — but I don’t consider “Bridgerton” to be colorblind. It is color-conscious; things like race and color are a part of the world, they are a part of the conversation. “Bridgerton” wouldn’t be “Bridgerton” without that amazing, colorful world. It’s for a modern audience, we wanted modern audiences to relate to it. And that meant we want anyone to be able to see themselves reflected onscreen. The show is always going to reflect the world we live in today.

What it really comes down to is we want to be able to show and hear things that aren’t traditionally shown or heard in this space, and in this genre. I assembled an incredible group of writers this year, a diverse group of writers, and we collaborated with a number of historians and consultants in coming up with this backstory for the Sharma family in a way that it made sense for what we were doing. Our shared goal was to be as authentic as possible. And we wanted to infuse the world with certain details, specifically linked to the heritage of this family. The first thing that Kate says is in Hindi. Those are the first words out of her mouth in the season premiere. And over the course of the season, you get to see some of the traditions and rituals of this South Asian family.

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“That felt like one too many things to us”

Throughout the show’s first season, a bee emerged as a recurring character buzzing in the background — it was an Easter egg for fans of the book series who were all too familiar with the role it had in forever changing the Bridgerton family.

It’s established that Lord and Lady Bridgerton married for love and had a marriage their children viewed as ideal and hard to live up to — a love story all the more tragic because Edmund Bridgerton died before the series starts. Season 2 fills in the blanks about how: He was stung by a bee and suffered a fatal allergic reaction in the presence of his eldest son, Anthony, who was unable to aid him. The experience not only left Anthony terrified of bees but set him on a path of not fully healing from the trauma of his father’s death.


The main theme of Season 2 is head versus heart, or duty versus blood — we’re always looking at which one lives, which one wins. When I first started developing the series, I had just become a father and it was incredible how much my life shifted almost instantaneously, as far as my priorities changing, my thinking changing, my whole perspective changing because I had a little baby girl to take care of. Now I have three little baby girls to take care of. There’s always been this sense of familial duty that started to become real to me overnight, and I think a lot of that found its way into Season 1 and especially Season 2 for Anthony. He is a man who has lived for his family. The bee moment is very indicative of that; it relates to his father’s trauma, it relates his outlook on love. We strayed a little bit from the books — book Anthony has this kind of neurotic tendency, thinking he’s going to die before he turns 38, which was the year his father died. That felt like one too many things to us. We wanted to be as focused as possible and really pinpoint what is the cause of Anthony’s actions. And so we looked at grief. Anthony was exceptionally close to his father. And I think his grief over his death, it’s something we explored, not just for him but for the entire family and for all the Bridgertons.

Bringing depth to the power a flying insect holds over a character would seem like a hard thread to navigate without making it feel silly or weird. There’s a moment in the third episode, “A Bee in Your Bonnet,” when a bee gets uncomfortably close to Kate, prompting a panicked reaction by Anthony.

It’s a pivotal moment, especially in the Anthony-Kate relationship. The book handles it a bit comically. I wanted to handle it more emotionally. And I wasn’t interested in telling the same story we told in Season 1, as far as two characters get caught in a compromising situation by someone and then are forced to marry. It’s a new season, it’s new characters, new stories. And I wanted to do something that we hadn’t done before.

Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in Season 2 of "Bridgerton."
(Liam Daniel/Netflix)


“It’s definitely a slow burn this season”

While Season 1 got hot and heavy pretty quickly, there’s a lot more yearning in the new season between Anthony and Kate. And liberties were taken that deviated from the source material: In the book, Anthony and Kate get caught in a compromising situation and then announce their engagement and are forced to marry soon after.


It’s definitely a slow burn this season, which is not what happened with Daphne and Simon. Season 2, we’re telling this enemies-to-lovers story. It’s one of my favorite tropes of the romance genre because I feel like there’s so much conflict to mine there. It’s so fun to watch them go toe to toe throughout the season. You feel this frustration building between these two characters episode to episode, scene to scene. I wanted to carry that and draw that out across the season because I knew the climax, pun absolutely intended, was going to be satisfying.

There was no pushback [from Netflix or Shondaland]. I think everyone was on the same page about what kind of story this was. We have less actual physical, intimate scenes in Season 2, but it was never really about the quantity for us anyway. We use these intimate scenes to tell a story and we’d never do a sex scene for the sake of doing a sex scene and we never will. I think the looks between Anthony and Kate across the room and the fingers and hands grazing and touching are just as sexy, if not more, as a sex montage around an ancestral estate.

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“Wouldn’t this be amazing as a “Bridgerton” orchestral cover?”

A hallmark of “Bridgerton” has been its soundtrack, flush with classical covers of modern songs. Songs like Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” and Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” received the string quartet treatment in Season 1. And the orchestral pop fun is ever-present in Season 2, with covers that include Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” and Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own.”

The whole intention with the music is to make our audience feel the same way that the characters onscreen feel. So when the Sharmas walk into that ballroom and they hear that amazing rendition of “Material Girl,” it gets the audience excited. As we were shooting that scene, the idea of using Madonna’s “Material Girl” came into my head, because you had this amazing moment of Lady Danbury’s there pointing out the wealth and status of all these gentlemen around the room, and she’s doing it the most amazing “Material Girl” kind of way, and it just felt like a natural, perfect fit.

There’s a moment towards the end of the season where a rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” plays and that was actually a song I wrote the scene to because the emotion of that song, it gets me every time, and I found it matched a certain dynamic between [Anthony and Kate] so perfectly. Simone Ashley and I actually had a lot of conversations about music, and we would WhatsApp each other certain songs like, “Wouldn’t this be amazing as a ‘Bridgerton’ orchestral cover?” And she and I were kind of on the same page that the soundtrack to Kate Sharma’s head is really Miley Cyrus.

One of my favorite moments is the cover of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” in the fourth episode [“Victory”] — it’s Kate and Anthony’s first dance. The original song is one of my personal favorite songs by one of my favorite artists. I think that moment is such a transcendent moment and the song we use [is] very much a summation of what’s happening between Kate, Anthony and Edwina in that moment — it’s the kind of song that’s beautiful and sad at the same time and makes you lean into your TV screen. It’s full of angst and it’s bittersweet and soul-stirring.


“You feel that sisterhood”

Van Dusen calls “Golden Girls” a pivotal series in his TV education — and, weird as it may seem, he agrees that some of its DNA can be felt in “Bridgerton.”


I remember watching that show — my parents watched it. And I was always watching it in the background too. And I think it had a profound effect on me as far as it being a show about women and women finding their agency in this world, and it was so funny. The banter on that show was so amazing. And the relationships among the women were so strong. You definitely see that in “Bridgerton,” especially this season. You feel that sisterhood happening and tested between our ladies.

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“Put your characters in the most impossible situations”

Van Dusen often comes back to the best advice he received from Rhimes: Don’t be afraid to put your characters in the worst situations.

“Bridgerton” is very much a show about smart and funny, kind of tortured people — their lives are messy, their love lives even messier. That’s very much how I learned to write television. These are men and women figuring out who they are. They’re finding their agency, they’re learning how to love and how to be in relationships. But it’s also about not being scared to put your characters in the most impossible situations and figure out how to watch them get out of them. “Bridgerton” is filled with these all kinds of moments, whether it’s the duke licking his spoon, or ... what happens in Episode 6, as far as getting Edwina and Anthony to the altar, which was a departure from the books, which makes for a very dramatic and, in my opinion, very compelling and riveting scene. The season is filled with moments that make you lean into your TV screen and get invested and yell at your screen.