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Shonda Rhimes and Showrunner Jess Brownell Dish on ‘Bridgerton’ Season 3

Colin and Penelope are not the only ones spreading their wings May 16

It’s no secret, dear readers, that the central romance in Bridgerton Season 3 is the love story of lifelong friends Penelope and Colin. As they take center stage, however, Bridgerton executive producer Shonda Rhimes and showrunner Jess Brownell reveal this season of change and growth will also bring to the fore some familiar faces – including mean girl Cressida, serious Francesca, the dopey Featherington sisters and a lighter Mamma Bridgerton.

Plus, FIRST for Women has the dish on the breakup of besties Penelope and Eloise. Can these two Bridgerton favorites make their way back to each other in Season 3?

MUST-READ: ‘Bridgerton’ Matriarchs Golda Rosheuvel, Adjoa Andoh and Ruth Gemmell Spill the Tea on Penelope & Colin and Season 3 Surprises

Shonda Rhimes is shipping Bridgerton S3’s other love story

Bridgerton Nicola Coughlan and Claudia Jessie penelope eloise
Nicola Coughlan and Claudia Jessie in ‘Bridgerton’ (2024) Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

With the marriage mart set to begin anew on Netflix May 16, this chapter of romance is based on Julia Quinn’s novel, Romancing Mister Bridgerton – which has everyone, including Bridgerton S3 leading lady Nicola Coughlan, herself, talking about Penelope and Colin. But even as viewers brace themselves for a steamy season of romance, there’s another critical ‘will they or won’t they?’ storyline brewing.

“For me, there’s a big love story here between Pen and Eloise,” says Shonda Rhimes. “You’re rooting for Pen and Eloise to get back together and reunite that friendship.”

Unfortunately, the lifelong besties have a challenging road ahead.

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“At the end of Season 2, Eloise finds out that Penelope is Whistledown right after she has written something damaging about her,” Bridgerton’s new showrunner Brownell recounts. “They have a huge blow-up fight. And when they enter this season, it’s not better. In fact, they have to spend time around each other in society watching the other one, which is tortuous.”

The painful rift will push both young ladies out of their comfort zones, forcing them to grow.

“The question is whether they’re going to grow in the same direction together and be able to mend old wounds… or will they grow apart?” teases Brownell. 

Shonda Rhimes says women’s friendships are at the heart of Bridgerton

BRIDGERTON_ Jessica Madsen as Cressida Claudia  -Jessie as Eloise
Jessica Madsen and Claudia Jessie in ‘Bridgerton’ (2024 Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

While Bridgerton is built around love stories and marriage matches, drama queen Rhimes – who once helped give the phrase “my person” new meaning via Grey’s Anatomy – believes friendships are at the heart of it all.

“Our show is, in a sense, about the working world of women, and their working world happens to be the marriage mart,” Rhymes explains. “So we’re constantly focused on these women and how they’re interacting with one another; their hopes and their dreams. We’re trying to present relationships that reflect what female relationships are like in the real world.

“Female friendship is central to so many of us, and it’s often not portrayed as anything other than cattiness,” she adds. “We really allowed ourselves to give these women full three-dimensional friendships that rest on so much more than what man they like or any of the sillier things. It rests on their trust in each other.”

With her trust in Penelope blown up at season’s start, Eloise stumbles into a new friendship – one that promises to give viewers new perspective on a familiar face.

MUST-READ: ‘Bridgerton’ Costume Designer John Glaser Shares Secrets About Gorgeous Season 3 Dresses and More

Bridgerton S3 love triangle reveals a new side to mean girl Cressida

Bridgerton Nicola Coughlan and Jessica Madsen as Penelope and Cressida Jessie.jpg; bridgerton shonda rhimes
Nicola Coughlan and Jessica Madsen in ‘Bridgerton’ (2024) Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

If Penelope and Eloise are caught in a friendship love story, Cressida is the other woman in season 3. At the very least, Penelope will be stung to see her former bestie hanging out with the ton’s mean girl – or should we say mean deb? – who’s long bullied her.

“I love a villain,” Brownell confesses. “And more than that, I love understanding why a villain is a villain. Because no one’s born a villain. Villains are made. And for Cressida, that’s very much the case. This season we’re going to understand why she is the way she is.

“It’s also her third season out, just like Penelope,” adds the showrunner. “So this sense that she had of herself as a queen bee, it’s starting to get toppled. We’re going to see new shades of vulnerability from her this year.”

As this maturing deb grapples with the threat of spinsterdom, yet another Bridgerton daughter will enter the mart this season.

Meet the “invisible” Bridgerton sister, Francesca, who shines in S3

Bridgerton s3 Hannah Dodd  as Francesca.jpg
Hannah Dodd in ‘Bridgerton’ (2024) Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

With Eloise and Colin caught up in Penelope’s drama this season, their beautiful sister Francesca gets into the dating games – but the quiet introvert is a very different sort of Bridgerton.

“Fran’s always been the invisible sister,” Rhimes says. “Now she becomes front and center. She’s back from having traveled and she’s ready to get married.”

Unlike her boisterous family, however, the serious pianist is rather unexcitable and hard to read as she makes her debut.  

“When Daphne debuted, she loved it,” Brownell recalls. “When Eloise debuted, she hated it. When Francesca debuts… she’s practical. She thinks it’s a good idea to take a husband. Violet’s used to her children being emphatic in their feelings, and that dynamic is really going to throw her for a loop.”

Bridgerton Shonda Rhimes teases a flirtation for “Mamma” in S3

Bridgerton s3 Ruth Gemmell as violet.jpg; bridgerton shonda rhimes
Cast of ‘Bridgerton’ (2024) Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2023

That won’t be the only thing throwing Violet for a loop. Even as she manages her daughter’s prospects, the widow and mother of eight will find an expected distraction of her own.

“We get to watch Violet have a flirtation,” teases Rhimes. “She’s deserving of it, and Jess Brownell always says, ‘Mommas need love, too.’ And she’s right, so we’re getting to see that.”

BRIDGERTON Featheringtons Harriet Cains - Bessie Carter - Polly Walker
Harriet Cains, Bessie Carter and Polly Walker in ‘Bridgerton’ (2024) Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

As Violet comes out of mourning, two other ladies of the ton are set for their own wake-up call of sorts: Penelope’s newly married siblings, Prudence and Philippa.

“There is a growth journey for them that’s quite wonderful – and you find yourself rooting for them,” Rhimes says. “I think you see a lot of interesting change and growth in Lady Featherington, as well.”

Meet Penelope’s Bridgerton S3 suitor, Lord Debling

BRIDGERTON  Nicola Coughlan as Penelope Featherington and Sam Phillips as Lord Debling.jpg; bridgerton shonda rhimes
Nicola Coughlan and Sam Phillips in ‘Bridgerton’ (2024) Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2024

Never fear, dear readers. We haven’t forgotten the central romance!

Penelope is determined to land a husband and while she initially falls on her face, she will indeed catch the eye of a very suitable bachelor.

“Lord Debling is a rather eccentric gentleman,” Brownell previews. “He’s a vegetarian. He loves animals, which makes him ahead of his time. But for Regency times, he’s quite strange. But he’s also handsome, and he’s eligible, and he’s interested in Penelope.”

We hear portrayer Sam Phillips couldn’t resist making a “Team Debling” T-shirt for Nicola Coughlan, who plays Penelope. While that is adorable, most viewers suspect this dashing gent only serves one purpose – to make Colin jealous!

Bridgerton S3 showrunner teases Penelope and Colin’s rom-com fun

When it comes to Penelope and Colin, viewers have one over on Lady Whistledown. The ton gossip IS Penelope, after all, and she’s not even talking to Colin when the mart begins. Having fallen out of the friend zone, these two have no clue what’s coming at them!

That said, their history brings a new energy to Bridgerton.

“Every season has a slightly different tone,” Brownell sets up. “This season we’re doing ‘friends to lovers’ for the first time, which lends itself to a little bit more playfulness and familiarity. We can lean into rom-com tropes, which is a real love of mine and something I’m proud to have highlighted this season.”

BRIDGERTON Nicola Coughlan as Penelope and Luke Newton as Colin; bridgerton shonda rhimes
Nicola Coughlan and Luke Newton in ‘Bridgerton’ (2023) Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2023

As is common in these tales, both characters are also desperately trying to find themselves – something they must accomplish before they can truly enjoy their happily ever after.

“Thematically this season, we are dealing with the idea of a persona, or two selves,” Brownell previews, and for Penelope, that means grappling with her identity as a young lady on the marriage mart, as well as Lady Whistledown.

“The idea that she’s hiding this entire secret life is amazing to me,” Rhimes marvels. “And by the way, she’s the only woman we see working, of that class, in the show. We are watching her step into her own this season. She starts to stand up for herself, and she owns what it means to be Lady Whistledown.”

Bridgerton Season 3 premieres on Netflix May 16, with the second half premiering June 13.

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