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Downton Abbey walked so that Bridgerton could f***

Yes, the classic period drama seems like history when compared with contemporary takes on romance and soap opera from tales of yore

Downton Abbey/Bridgerton
Image credit: ITV/Netflix

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The announcement of a third Downton Abbey movie was a welcome surprise for those who fell for the (deliberately restrained) charms of the series when it debuted in 2010 (in the UK, at least; Americans had to wait until the following year for its US premiere), but one that came with a particularly obvious question looming in the freshly-manicured background: Why does anyone need Downton Abbey in a world where we’ve now got Bridgerton?

20th Century Boys (and Girls)

Don’t get us wrong; we get why Downton Abbey hit big when it first arrived. We, too, kept watch on those early seasons, wondering whether or not Bates would ever get himself to tell Anna how he really felt — that man was far too repressed for his own good… or ours, as viewers! — or whether Cousin Matthew would win over a family that it didn’t really seem cared for him one bit. (Well, except Cora, but she was always an understated, understanding sort.) We enjoyed the cutting remarks from the Dowager Countess, brought to life as only Maggie Smith could manage; similarly, the double act of Phyllis Logan’s Mrs. Hughes and Jim Carter’s Mr. Carson was at once fearsome and wholesome, as if the show had magically discovered the stand-in parents we’d always longed for and never quite deserved.

Downton Abbey
Image credit: ITV

Moreover, Downton felt like it understood everything that audiences had always loved about the classic British period drama — the outfits, the poking at a sublimated class structure to see just how fragile it really was, and the unspoken emotions that stiff upper lips got in the way of flying freely — and delivered it in a manner that was updated and doing exactly what a modern audience wanted. Downton Abbey was funnier, snarkier, and more cutting that people were used to from the traditional period drama — and it was, in its own way, trashier, as well.

That’s meant as a compliment: there’s a wonderfully melodramatic, camp quality to the show and its eagerness to dive into the most soap operatic of plots while pretending to have airs and graces that put it above such things, even as it offered up fake family members, countless illicit affairs, ghosts commenting on people’s love lives via ouija board and all manner of gloriously ridiculous elements. How could anyone resist that kind of thing?

Related: Bridgerton: How to watch Netflix's hit historical romance as Lady Whistledown would

As a formula, it felt both revolutionary and also just plain fun during the show’s initial run… but today, it’s hard to feel as if Bridgerton hasn’t refined that formula even further — and in the process, left Downton feeling a little like… well, a part of history.

She Bangs (Period Remix)

Like Downton Abbey, Bridgerton takes a very knowing look at the tropes of the period drama, but it goes further in recreating them for today’s audiences: the soap is soapier, the humor more arch and knowing — this is a show didn’t just recreate Gossip Girl in the 19th century, but got Julie Andrews to be Gossip Girl, which is such a fantastic swing it should never be overlooked — and the cast more diverse, all of which is a joy in and of itself, but it should never be overlooked what the show’s true masterstroke really is: Bridgerton is period drama that is allowed to be amazingly, overwhelmingly, joyfully horny.

Image credit: Netflix

And wow is Bridgerton horny. Gloriously, beautifully horny. There are whole episodes dedicated to boning, especially when Simon and Daphne are together in season one. The smut is front and center in a way that even the books couldn't quite accomplish. But even when the characters have their clothes on, the sexual tension is the best part of Bridgerton – and it should be. Not just because we love a bit of smut (we do) but because these are young people and it is a truth universally acknowledged that young people, even the rich and fancy, love to bang.

Horniness has always been central to the appeal of a period drama, but usually only as subtext. The characters in Downton Abbey don’t get to be outwardly horny – they have to hide their horniness in layers of propriety in a way that only the English have mastered. Bridgerton takes everything that Downton Abbey did to satirize the period drama and goes a step forward. The racy plotlines, the classical takes on modern music, and the more diverse cast are only really possible because Downton Abbey came first and delivered a more classic take on the period drama. Bridgerton is still unmistakably a period drama, yet it manages to be something so much more. Think of Downton Abbey as the foreplay and Bridgerton as the “main event,” if you know what we mean.

Perhaps this is the way of all things television: that the tastes of today’s audiences will make the previous generation seem old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy. Bridgerton is a distinctly modern take on the genre, but it probably wouldn’t have been made if Downton Abbey hadn’t built an audience of thirsty, repressed period drama fans desperate for a new outlet. By giving us a more restrained show to start, it paved the way for, admittedly, a better show. Downton Abbey teased us for years so that Bridgerton could give us the release we needed.

Sure, maybe the third Downton Abbey movie will change that in some way thanks to Paul Giamatti’s involvement and influence, but while we’re waiting for that to happen with baited breath, let’s spend our time watching the far more enjoyable, far hornier Bridgerton. It’s what Lady Danbury would want for us.

Whether its the bane of your existence or the object of all your desires (or both), Bridgerton is back. Read all our spoiler-y thoughts on Bridgerton season 3 here, and then delight at a guide to how to watch all of Bridgerton (and the spinoff), an our exclusive interview with the show's costume designer John Glaser, as well as some recommended reads for all Bridgerton fans.