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Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington in Bridgerton.LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX/Netflix

Gentle reader, here is a spoiler for the new season of the period-romance series Bridgerton, which arrives on Netflix on Friday: Rege-Jean Page is not in it. For those of us who analyze television as closely as the ton of Regency England watched who was promenading with whom, this creates a drama within the drama: Will the world fall in love with it again, without its breakout star?

A Jane Austen-style marriage plot goosed with a winking modern sensibility, some choice barbs, a limitless flower budget, and bodice-ripping that stopped just short of soft porn, Bridgerton’s first season made its debut on Dec. 25, 2020, courtesy of creator Chris Van Dusen and producer Shonda Rhimes, based on the novel series by Julia Quinn. Immediately, it became a holiday confection for a pandemic-ravaged world.

We were tense and needed soothing; bored and needed distraction; horny and needed someone to lust after. And hoo, Page delivered, as the Duke of Hastings who sets hearts and loins aflame. Eighty-two million households clicked in (making it Netflix’s most-watched series at the time); it was number one on the streamer in 76 countries.

But that was then. Season two arrives in quite a different landscape. Many people are emerging from lockdown, breaking out of their drawing rooms, re-engaging with the world. Urgent violins and rumbling carriage wheels may not be enough to transport us anymore.

Left to right: Charithra Chandran as Edwina Sharma, Simone Ashley as Kate Sharma and Jonathan Bailey as Anthony Bridgerton in Bridgerton.LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX/Netflix

In the first new episode, Bridgerton seems to acknowledge this. “I yearn for someone fresh, unexpected, to turn this season on its head,” declaims Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel). And hark, arriving from India are two stunning sisters, the docile, younger Edwina Sharma (Charithra Chandran) and the fiery, older Kate (Simone Ashley). Who will win the heart of the duty-bound Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey)? Duh.

That duh is the problem. With the outcome foreordained, we need twists that are meaningful in 2022, and this season doesn’t provide. For starters, why create characters from India and never have them address England’s role there? There are flicks to female self-actualization (and a flash of oral sex), but they take really long to arrive. Even the homages (Anthony in a wet white shirt, à la Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice) are undercooked. Plus, the central plot – a man pursuing two sisters – feels icky and unpleasant to watch.

Here’s the thing about emerging from our pandemic cocoons: The zeitgeist is different. The world itself seems different. Things once familiar feel strangely distant. Small, ordinary connections have become magnificent. Not only are assertive pastels and sky-high wigs not diverting to me anymore, I no longer want diversion. I want engagement.

I want Better Things (FX), Pamela Adlon’s masterpiece of the minuscule, which is in the middle of its fifth and final season. Adlon co-created the show with Louis C.K., and his admitted sexual assaults cast a shadow that the series got caught in. But she took over in season three, and has made the show stronger, more mysterious and unexpected, and more moving.

She directs every episode, writes or co-writes many, and stars as an actress/single mother of three making her way in Los Angeles. Forget rubies and emeralds – in Better Things, ordinary moments among family and friends are polished to gems. It’s about the complications and beauties of connection, and my eyes well up in every episode.

Many people are emerging from lockdown, breaking out of their drawing rooms, re-engaging with the world. Urgent violins and rumbling carriage wheels may not be enough to transport us anymore.LIAM DANIEL/NETFLIX/Netflix

Speaking of the intersection between strange, ordinary and beautiful: Somebody Somewhere (HBO/Crave). Inspired by the life of its star, Bridget Everett, and created by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, it’s about Sam (Everett), who returned home to Manhattan, Kan., to help her sister die of cancer. We meet her in the aftermath, as she tries to rebuild a life there.

Every character is someone you’ve never seen on TV before, and each one feels thrillingly real. Talk about hitting the zeitgeist – a 100-per-cent relatable woman emerges from grief and experiences joy, frustration and wonder in the everyday. It’s also quietly hilarious. The scene of family day at a rehab centre should be studied in every writing program for the rest of time.

And finally, I wager many viewers avoided Station Eleven (HBO/Crave) because they feared it captured the zeitgeist too literally: Created by Patrick Somerville (The Leftovers), based on the novel by Emily St. John Mandel, and shot mostly in Canada, it’s about a global pandemic much deadlier than COVID-19. In flashbacks and flash-forwards, we meet a small group of specific characters before, during and 20 years after.

But fear not, gentle reader! This series is in fact hopeful, desperately beautiful – much credit for that goes to two of its directors, Canadians Helen Shaver and Jeremy Podeswa – and life-affirming. Every single episode has an image, or a piece of dialogue, or a revelation about what it means to be human that knocked me sideways. Rege-Jean Page made me swoon from the gut, and that’s a lot. But Station Eleven made me swoon from the soul.

So for sure, watch Bridgerton to escape from the world. But these other series give us a fresh, unexpected world to escape to.

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