How Two Different TV Series Show Alternate Versions of History

David B Morris
8 min readApr 11, 2024

And Why The More Popular One Is By Far More Disturbing In Implications Then Its Mood Suggests

Why is no one asking the real questions about Bridgerton?

I’ve made it clear countless times in my TV criticism that I don’t care about the racial or sexual reinvention of fictional characters as long as it doesn’t affect the story. I realize this has made almost every other project from Hollywood a polarizing issue for the last twenty years and frankly it’s made my job infinitely harder.

My attitude, I should be frank, has to do with viewing it on its merits. But also because I never view any in pop culture sacred and only capable of an originalist interpretation. Also and most importantly, I don’t think that eighty to ninety percent of so many of the projects that fanboys considered sacred were ever that good.

Go ahead, burn me in effigy, call me a philistine but I never saw anything that remarkable in Star Wars or Star Trek and I went my entire childhood not knowing that it was a crime against humanity to know whether a comic book character came from DC or Marvel. You want to argue that Stan Lee was a national treasure or that Batman deserves to have his own great book series, I’d say these people really need to read more and watch more.

So in my humble opinion, it doesn’t make a difference if Brie Larson plays Captain Marvel, if Nora West and Jimmy Olsen are African-American, if there are black storm troopers or female Jedis, if the Ghostbusters are female, male or holograms who identify as pansexual. I’m more upset Greta Gerwig wasn’t nominated for Best Director for Little Women then directing a glorified product placement ad and I’m irritated that shows like The Mandalorian get nominated for Best Drama because it means I have to watch series for a franchise I’ve done everything in my power to ignore for a quarter of a century. My job is hard enough; whether or not there were African-American elves is not something I want to spend time debating the merits of. If this is what our society is fighting battles over, maybe the zombie apocalypse needs to come. Though apparently, according to The Last of Us, representation of the LGBTQ+ will apparently still be important after the world ends. (I’m speaking in hyperbole in the latter subject; I’m actually planning to watch the series before Season 2.)

Again I can’t bring myself to care about this. Where I do think I have to draw a line in the sand is the way that, in the name of multiculturalism Hollywood, after decades of whitewashing the past, has no ridiculously overcorrected to the point of complete illogic. Dev Patel has played both Gawain and David Copperfield. There are many blacks who are part of 1920s Communist Russia and in one case a member of the upper class in A Gentleman in Moscow. And don’t even get me starting on the alternate universe Ryan Murphy has created in limited series such as Hollywood where Jim Crow is apparently not taking place in 1930s Los Angeles.

I get that the history of the world has been unkind to minorities in every respect. And I’m more than open to series that tell this side of our nation’s past. I was in awe of Lovecraft Country and Watchmen and I thought that Showtime’s Fellow Travelers tried to tell the story that not even most members of the LGBTQ+ people were unaware of. I think we need to tell more stories of the past. But there’s a big difference from telling untold stories and basically turning the entire history of the world into glorified fanfiction. This has been done by several filmmakers and showrunners, but it should come as a shock to no one that the biggest abuser of this has been Shonda Rhimes and the world she built with Bridgerton.

I’ve made it clear on multiple occasions that I’ve never liked Rhimes’ work and that Bridgerton is no different. At the time I just thought it was yet another example of Rhimes being Rhimes. I now realize that she was actually doing something far more sinister and kind of unsettling.

It’s been clear to me, at least in theory, that Bridgerton takes place in a Regency England where, somehow Anglo-Africans enjoy in some place the full equality of white ones. They have vast amounts of wealth, have been born to families of immense privilege and are free to marry white women. It’s very hard to imagine a Europe, much less an England, where this kind of society could be allowed to exist, particularly considering that women don’t have any equality at all, but what the hell, it was Rhimes being Rhimes.

Then I heard about Queen Charlotte. To be clear Charlotte has been betrothed against her will to marry George IV. Again, the idea that any of the crown heads of Europe would marry a woman who is clearly of darker skin passed the bonds of incredulity. But apparently while the rules of integration exist in England, slavery still exists everywhere else. This is true of the British Empire. (On a side note, if the entire first season of Queen Charlotte doesn’t have at least one character says: “England ruled by an African Queen?” it is a betrayal of everything I hold dear. Back to my point.)

I’ll be honest the world I would like to explore in Bridgerton has a storyline far more compelling then who Lady Whistledown is. If blacks somehow have full equality in England, how is slavery still exists throughout the world? If they are nobles, do they hold seats in Parliament? Are there members of the House of Commons or Lords who want to end the slave trade? Hell, that’s the storyline for Queen Charlotte: Charlotte scheming to use her power to end the slave trade throughout the world.

That would be brilliant television and I’d instantly watch every episode. But it is not the kind of story that Rhimes is capable of writing, even if she were interested in the subject. And anyone who is a watcher of her work knows that, for all Rhimes’ claims of being groundbreaking with African-American woman in positions of power, when push comes to shove, her characters have no more interest in disruption than Tyler Perry’s. If we learned anything from watching Scandal, it was that Olivia Pope might have the power to make the most powerful men in America quake, but she was not interested in doing good with it, certainly not for people of her gender or race any more than her father was. Rhimes’ shows might be all about breaking the glass ceiling when it comes to the races, genders and sexuality of her characters, but all that usually means is that they get to have sex with whoever they want with no consequences or attachment. Rhimes has created an alternate England where black men have more power than they ever will in America — and they seem to have no more interest in doing anything with it than their white counterparts.

If you’re going to commit to this kind of alternate history, you have to truly commit to it and Rhimes has no interest in it. Neither to be sure, do any of the alterations I’ve listed before. There is an Agatha Christie adaptation playing on BBC where the white male protagonist was swapped out for a Nigerian emigrant. The wokeness police were outraged but for the wrong reasons. The time and place were the same — a rural village in 1950s England — but there was no acknowledgement by either the lead or any other character of how a man of African descent could proceed in 1950s England when the sun had not yet set on the British Empire and somehow no one mentioned it. That’s honestly more disturbing that the last couple of regenerations of Doctor Who.

Fans of my writing might remember that I have raved over the past several years about HBO’s reimagining of Perry Mason. They could argue that in this version Della Street is not only a lesbian but the power behind Perry, Hamilton Burger is gay, and Paul Drake is black and all of this takes place in 1930s Los Angeles. Isn’t this unrealistic?

No, because in Perry Mason the leads have changed but America hasn’t. And the writers never let the characters or the viewer forget it. Della Street and Hamilton Burger have to be seen together as a couple in order to make sure Burger, who wants a life as a District Attorney, can not be seen as a single individual. Della wants power as a woman, but she knows all too well she can not be open with her sexuality even to her landlady. And Paul is very aware of the racist world he lives in and knows all too well that even if he steps rightly in LA, he might very well not come home to his family.

Aside from that, we know of all the bigotry that exists in this America and its clear that in this world, the rich and powerful can and will always get away with murder. All Perry and his band can do is try to get their clients, who are being railroaded by the justice system, acquitted by it. What happens in the aftermath is beyond their control — and in some cases, they might not survive even if they don’t get executed.

Perhaps it shouldn’t shock me that while Perry Mason struggled to survive to a second season before being canceled, Bridgerton is now scheduled for a third season and another spinoff may be in the works. It fits into the general mindset of so many niche audiences who want representation in film and television but don’t really care if its realistic or even logical. The regency England of Bridgerton is as utterly impossible and unbelievable as the Middle-Earth and space operas where representation is a battle of ideology.

More to the point, Perry Mason is the world we actually lived in. Bridgerton is the one people wanted to be real. And I know that in so much of what I read — and the entertainment stuff is by far the least of it — what so many of these groups want to see. That rewriting the past is the kind of thing that they argue against when other people do it — well, that’s an inconsistency that they never see in themselves.



David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.