‘Bridgerton’ Showrunner Jess Brownell Knows How You Feel About Playboy Colin

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‘Bridgerton’ Showrunner Dishes on Season 3Liam Daniel/Netflix

In a herculean feat, Jess Brownell doesn’t bat an eye when my very cute, very loud cat interrupts our Zoom interview. Clearly, the new Bridgerton showrunner, who took over the role in Season 3 after two years in the writers' room, is used to focusing in the midst of chaos. Which is probably why she graciously listens when I decide to go off on a mini-rant about how much I abhor Colin Bridgerton’s playboy persona, despite being absolutely smitten by actor Luke Newton, as seen in the first part of this new season.

I am not alone in my Colin Bridgerton hate. Since the release of Bridgerton Season 3 Part 1, fans online have had a field day, dubbing him “Colin ‘The Slut’ Bridgerton.” In part because of his new playboy antics, cocky persona, and penchant for threesomes, but also because of his wandering hands during his carriage ride with Penelope (Nicola Coughlan). And, before you start debating whether or not it’s the “real Colin” or if he’s just misunderstood, you should know that the showrunner herself tells Cosmopolitan that getting the ick from early season Colin is actually “the right reaction.” In fact, it’s critical to his development over the season, including what happens in Part 2, hitting Netflix June 13.

Of course, Brownell avoids giving away any potential spoilers during her conversation with Cosmopolitan. But she does spill her thoughts on adapting Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, the addition of Lord Debling, and why the Bridgerton boys are so damn good at giving women orgasms (see: the carriage scene).

This is your first time as a showrunner, but you’ve been in the writers' room with Shonda Rhimes for over 15 years and worked on many of her iconic shows—Scandal, Inventing Anna. What did you learn from her about being a showrunner?

Everything. She is an incredible mentor, she’s so collaborative. I take a lot of cues from her in terms of empowering my writers, taking a note wherever it comes from and not being concerned with hierarchy. Creatively, I’ve learned a lot about leaning into story based on what I’m excited about. Shonda is less interested in following the basic steps of story structure, she always starts with what’s exciting. What do I want to see? What images have to be in the show? And so that’s where I try to start as well.

What were the images that you started with for Season 3?

We start with the books, and there were many set pieces and moments that we wanted in there—the carriage and the hand wrap moment with the lantern. And we talked a lot in the room about what ball themes we wanted. Of course, we lead with character, but we’re also writing to some of these images that we’re excited about.

As this is your first season as showrunner, taking over for creator Chris Van Dusen. Do you think having a female showrunner brings a new sensibility to the series?

I don’t know that it has to do with gender, but I would hope that I bring my own personal sensibility to the show. For me, season 3 is very much about my love for rom-coms and really leaning into that with Pen and Colin. It works especially well because it’s a friends-to-lovers story, so naturally there’s a lot more lightness and comfort in the relationship between the two characters.

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Luke Newton, Nicola Coughlan, Jess BrownellCourtesy of Netflix

When Colin had just returned from his travels and was flirting with all the ladies, I found him absolutely insufferable. I was screaming at the screen, “Gross! Stay away!”—

I have to say, that is the right reaction.

But once he discovers his feelings for Penelope and becomes more insecure and awkward, I was completely rooting for him. And that switch feels very rom-com to me.

Thank you. I think your reaction is absolutely valid. We are not in the business of creating perfect characters. If you’ll remember, a lot of people were very vocal about their dislike for Anthony in season 1 and by the time he traveled on his journey, he’s incredibly likable. With Colin, it was important to dive into the areas where he needed growth and to see that he is kind of obsessed with projecting this certain idea of masculinity.

We talked a lot in the room about toxic masculinity versus a masculinity that embraces sensitivity. Especially in the regency period when gender roles were so cut and dry, Colin has to find himself as a sensitive man within that framework.

The idea of toxic masculinity vis-a-vis Colin also speaks, in my mind, to the books by Julia Quinn. In Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, one thing that struck me was how aggressive Colin was, especially in the hot scenes. But he’s much more loving in the show. Was that a calculated shift?

Aggressive masculinity is a trope across almost all romance novels, but when you adapt it for the screen and you’re physically seeing it play out, it’s a little bit less appealing. That was certainly a change we wanted to make. It was also a change we wanted because we’ve been with these characters for two seasons now, and anger has never been a part of the way Luke Newton has played the character, so it felt right to lean more into the sensitivity.

One of the major departures from the book is that Penelope gets a new suitor in Lord Debling (Sam Phillips). Why was it important to introduce this new character?

We felt like Penelope is very eligible and, all along, if she would’ve found her confidence, she would have had a ton of guys who are interested in her. So, it’s a natural result of her stepping more into the light. It also provides a bit of a ticking clock for Colin to figure out his feelings, but it was important for us to structure it such that Colin’s feelings develop before Lord Debling shows his interest. He’s not feeling something for Pen just because he’s jealous. However, it does make him come to that realization more quickly.

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How do you plan out when you’re going to place hot scenes throughout the season?

It’s all about the character arc. So, we start with: Where does the character start? What growth do we need to see from them? And usually there is an external goal that the character is trying to achieve at the top of the season. For Penelope, it’s about getting a proposal, and for Colin, it’s about winning his friendship with Penelope back. Usually the characters are meant to achieve that external plot goal by the midpoint of the season. In the back half, you want them to dig deeper and figure out what they actually need. So placing their first hookup at the midpoint made a lot of sense because it is the achievement of that first external goal. But of course, we know there’s so much more hanging over them in Part 2…

I love that Colin is continuing the Bridgerton boy tradition of being very into giving women orgasms.

I don’t know! Do they talk about it? Did they share tips?

When they go out for drinks, they have a nice chat about it.

I’m sure there’s fan fiction about that somewhere.

Well, Anthony is always going down on Kate, and the carriage scene is very Penelope-focused, and I love that. Who are these men? And who is teaching them?

The Bridgerton writers' room is all for female pleasure! So, we’re putting it in their hands metaphorically and literally.

And we thank you for your service! I also wanted to talk about Episode 3, which is when Colin is suddenly obsessed with Penelope. I love that it mirrored Daphne’s journey in season 1—waking up after a hot dream, the fixation on the mouth—but acted as a bit of a role reversal. Why was it important for you to make him the hopeless romantic this season versus Penelope?

After watching Colin underestimate Penelope for two seasons, we absolutely wanted him to be in the position of longing. I love Penelope getting to be the object of affection. She is absolutely eligible, she just needed to get her confidence to come around.

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