Phoebe Dyvenor returns in "Bridgerton" Season 2. Photo courtesy of Netflix
LOS ANGELES, March 20 (UPI) -- Phoebe Dynevor's chemistry with Rege-Jean Page was a huge draw for Bridgerton Season 1. Without Page, Season 2, premiering Friday on Netflix, has a clever way to create new chemistry without repeating itself.
Season 2 begins in a new courtship season, in a bit of meta commentary acknowledging it is also Season 2 of the show. Where the first season focused on Daphne Bridgerton's (Dynevor) romance and schemes, this season follows her siblings Eloise (Claudia Jessie) and Viscount Anthony (Jonathan Bailey).
Eloise wants no part of these formalities, but Anthony is sincerely looking for a bride. None of the single women of Regency era London are good enough for him until the Sharma sisters arrive.
Anthony first meets elder sister Kate (Simone Ashley) on a horse ride, but it's her younger sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran) who's looking for a husband.
Anthony and Kate have real chemistry because their relationship is adversarial and full of one-upmanship. It's a classic Taming of the Shrew/Harry Met Sally dynamic and the audience anticipates a love triangle long before they do.
The Sharmas also introduce a new family who represent all the aspects of the Bridgerton world. Edwina is looking for love, Kate is resisting it and their mother, Lady Mary (Shelley Conn) has high hopes for her daughters.
It's also Eloise and Anthony's turn. Bridgerton is the family name so it shouldn't be only Daphne's love story.
Daphne's presence is missed in the first few episodes, but her legacy lingers over Eloise who feels she has to live up to Daphne's whirlwind season. Eloise comes into her own, resisting tradition and taking charge.
When Daphne appears, she doesn't usurp the new main characters. She is truly a supporting character this season.
Bridgerton does throw Season 1 fans some bones though. Daphne gives the audience hints about her marriage to Simon (Page). Nothing too juicy though, not in the first four episodes at least.
Since the audience learned Penelope (Nicola Coughlan) is writing the Lady Whistledown gossip pamphlets, Season 2 gets to celebrate Penelope as a writer. We get to see her spying on others and sneaking off to write, even negotiating with her printer.
Penelope also must become more evasive when Eloise starts finding clues to Whistledown's identity. Penelope dismisses those clues and no one but the viewer knows she's covering her own tracks.
It's also lovely to see Season 2 focus on Eloise and Penelope's friendship. It makes the case that those friendships are more important than either of them finding a man, as society wants them to (and Penelope wants for herself).
There are also plenty of new costumes and luxuries in Bridgerton Season 2. The premiere episode has three formal balls in a single hour, and a game of pall-mall later in the season shows the characters engaging in new activities.
It may feel jarring to shift focus to new characters in Season 2 of a series and shift the main character back to the ensemble. Perhaps future seasons will make Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton) the star, or another would return to Daphne and Simon.
Readers of the Julia Quinn books may already know who takes the spotlight in each story. One senses when the whole body of the series exists, each season will fit nicely as a chapter of the Bridgerton saga.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.