While we’re all waiting patiently in our foot-tall wigs and cap-sleeved gowns for Bridgerton season 2 (no, just me?), a new period era drama might have enough complicated romances and power-hungry socialites to hold me over.
From Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, HBO Max’s The Gilded Age (one of TG's top new shows to watch for January 2022) is set in New York City during the late 19th century. As the name suggests, the show oozes the economic successes of the super-rich who preferred city mansions to country estates.
With the profitable railroad, steel and coal-mining industries growing quickly, the social scene is infiltrated by “new money.” No surprise, the “old money” families don’t look kindly upon the folks who earned (instead of inherited) their wealth moving in across the street.
I’m a sucker for historical fiction, especially when it’s well-rooted in fact. The Russells, new money railroad tycoons, are inspired by the Vanderbilts, while the old money Van Rhijns supposedly descended from the Livingston family, who brought wealth to New York from Scotland and the Dutch Republic in the 17th century.
Meanwhile the Astors, an actual clan that amassed enormous power during the The Gilded Age, have final word in deciding social status and favor old money. Despite her many frenemies around town, the Russell matriarch attempts to win the Astors’ favor. Lavish charity balls, gossiping house staff, endless corsets and unlikely romances add color to the incessant social climbing.
The Gilded Age brings the Bridgerton vibes home
All the families featured in The Gilded Age are filthy rich. As we peek inside their Upper East Side abodes filled with furniture scalped from European royalty, I thought there’s no way these orante mansions existed in the same New York I live in now.
But that’s why I love The Gilded Age so far — it’s a taste of Bridgerton’s elitism, but in a place I call home. Frequent nods to distinct neighborhood qualities or landmark namesakes capture what’s different (or not) in the same city 130-ish years later.
The show was originally birthed as a spin-off to Downton Abbey, but as Bridgerton is one the best shows on Netflix right now, I’m glad HBO’s response ended up being independent of Fellowes past period drama.
From what I’ve seen so far, The Gilded Age isn’t a smidge as sexy or salacious as Bridgerton, but the sinister side of status-seeking seeps into every scene. Rich people are ruthless when it comes to getting what they want, and in this era, passing on a party invitation is considered the most vicious snub.
Why you should give the The Gilded Age a go
It’s these subtleties masked behind beautiful costumes and my love of Christine Baranski that almost fill the Lady Whistledown-sized gap that Bridgerton left when I finished season 1 over a year ago. Again, The Gilded Age isn’t nearly as seductive, and I spent a considerable sum of the show’s runtime Googling the era’s history knowing I wouldn’t miss a makeout session if my eyes drifted to my phone. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but it’ll definitely tide me over until we get to see more of the Bridgerton family’s rollercoaster relationships.
The Gilded Age’s 10 episodes arrive every Monday on HBO Max through March 28, 2022. It's perfect timing, as Bridgerton season 2 arrives on March 25.