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Apple TV+’s The Buccaneers is not only an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s unfinished novel of the same name, it’s also clearly the smaller streamer’s answer to Netflix’s juggernaut period romantic drama Bridgerton. There are some fundamental differences, of course—the first two seasons of Bridgerton are set in England’s Regency era of 1811–1820, and follow mainly British folk; The Buccaneers is set in the 1870s and instead focuses on a group of five American women who travel to England to find suitors.
The Americanness of these women, self-dubbed The Buccaneers—Annabel “Nan” St. George (Kristine Frøseth), Virginia “Jinny” St. George (Imogen Waterhouse), Conchita “Connie” Closson (Alisha Boe), Elizabeth “Lizzy” Elmsworth (Aubri Ibrag), and Mabel “Mab” Elmsworth (Josie Totah)—allows the show to present a less restrained, more contemporary depiction of wealthy young women fighting for agency in the 19th century.
But despite this difference in tone, the shows are still both about young women trying to find good life partners in 1800s England. People who liked Bridgerton and are contemplating a Buccaneers watch are surely wondering: How do the two stack up? Well, I’ll tell you!
The Buccaneers: 4/10
OK, I’m not going to bury the lede. I know this is what you’re wondering: How often will each of these shows have you twirling your hair, blushing, and giggling like a smitten schoolgirl? That is why we watch them, after all.
The Buccaneers mostly focuses on a love triangle between the main female protagonist, Nan St. George, and her two suitors, London’s most eligible bachelor, the handsome Theo, Duke of Tintagel (Guy Remmers), and his charismatic best friend, Guy Thwarte (Matthew Broome). Your mileage may vary, but I think this show takes a risk in trying to make both male sides of this triangle fairly appealing. You don’t know who to root for (if any of them)!
Luckily, The Buccaneers has other loving pairings to focus on when you get tired of the main three, who spend the first season at war with each other and their desires. There’s Conchita’s complex marriage to Lord Richard Marable (Josh Dylan)—these are two people who deeply love each other, but struggle with societal expectations that inhibit them from treating each other with love—and a passionate (and closeted) love affair between two women, Mabel Elmsworth and Honoria Marable (Mia Threapleton). But in my opinion, the chemistry between the actors in these pairings is often lacking what’s needed to make them properly sear on screen.
Even though there’s also a central love triangle in Bridgerton’s Season 2, between Kate Sharma (Simone Ashley), Anthony Bridgerton (Jonathan Bailey), and Kate’s sister, Edwina (Charithra Chandran), it’s clear early on that the true chemistry lies between Kate and Anthony. I’m sorry: Bridgerton, whose Season 1 featured an irresistible “fake relationship” love affair between Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon Basset (Regé-Jean Page), just understands how to create fiery, sexual tension between two characters played by very well-cast actors, better than The Buccaneers does. A show that has Bailey’s crackling “you are the bane of my existence and the object of all my desires” speech cannot be beat!
The Buccaneers: 6/10
The Buccaneers costumes don’t feature extravagant patterns like Bridgerton, but the choices are so consistent and in sync. The show is intentionally vibrant, using mainly rich jewel tones for both the women and the men, in interesting fabrics and silhouettes—particularly in the case of the women’s attire. Even when the costuming is made to be more understated or pastel, the intricacies of clothing structure and detailing are intriguing. The show doesn’t always hit the nail on the head, but it tries in really subtle and exciting ways to venture out of the box in the characters’ clothing. I loved the costuming in the episode “It’s Christmas,” which features some fabulous knits (particularly one emerald sweater Broome’s Guy Thwarte dons) and understated, but satisfying, designs. The Buccaneers takes a slight lead for me here, but by mere decimal points.
The costuming in Bridgerton is certainly more dramatic than The Buccaneers. The series (while not always 100 percent historically accurate) shows off some beautiful frocks, putting the female actors in colorful dresses of intricate and sparkling lace, and (when she appears) Queen Charlotte in extravagant ensembles fit for a monarch. Not to mention all of the particularly involved updos that the women favor! The men are often similarly decked out in well-done vests and suit coats. However, I find Bridgerton’s clothes to be really hit-or-miss. When the costuming is great, it’s excellent—but when it’s mediocre, it’s fairly lackluster or even confusing. For example: What, pray tell, is my guy wearing here?! These colors … not the best matchup.
The Buccaneers: 3/10
This music is bad. I am very sorry to say it, but it is true. There’s no reason why I should be hearing the iconic musical stylings of Japanese Breakfast or the contemporary sounds of Taylor Swift and Gracie Abrams while these young women are traipsing around 1800s London being kinda annoying and having 1800s problems. I get the show is trying for a contemporary, era-defying take on classic literature, but it doesn’t need to take such liberties.
Bridgerton wins here, without a doubt. The Netflix series makes the smart choice of having classical music throughout the show, but enlisting composers and musicians—most famously, Vitamin String Quartet—to create orchestral covers of famous pop hits for the ball scenes and bigger moments. Yeah, it’s kinda cringey at first to hear a string quartet cover Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” but, hey—it works!
The Buccaneers: 7/10
When it comes to the formal balls and teas put on by the adults in this show? Meh. But these Buccaneer ladies get their name from knowing how to let loose. Though there’s always some underlying tension unfolding during the debaucherous parties the Buccaneers and their beaus throw for themselves, they definitely seem to have more fun.
These parties are full of golden lighting, pleasant string-quartet covers of your favorite hits, and, often, sexual tension between one or two couples dancing with each other (or trying hard to avoid one another). However, these grand balls aren’t always fun, though they may be occasionally swoon-worthy.
The Buccaneers: 6/10
When it comes to Grade-A hotties, people will make their own judgments. The Buccaneers isn’t struggling for handsome men, though I do find Bridgerton to have more special sauce. My favorite is the cutie Matthew Broome (though the facial hair they force him to have does him no favors), while I know some will be more partial to the blue-eyed hunk Guy Remmers.
I gotta say, Bridgerton wins this one for me. Regé-Jean Page being ridiculously handsome is, honestly, a large part of what catapulted Bridgerton Season 1 to massive popularity. And no one can argue with the looks of the other handsome Bridgerton men, like Jonathan Bailey or Luke Newton, either. It must be pointed out that a lot of their attractiveness develops through their interactions with their love interests on screen—but shouldn’t that be the way?
The Buccaneers: 2/10
You totally could. Sex might have been the most shocking thing about Bridgerton, but Apple’s show has absolutely no interest in centering sex on screen. There are no real sex scenes, which is fine … for some viewers. If you wanted more, I’m sincerely sorry.
You could not, unless you’re me, who … has. But really, maybe you shouldn’t! Though plenty of people first clicked on Bridgerton for the romance, the show went viral for its horny depiction of a sex-positive Regency era in which female desire was at the forefront. Some romance readers, whose tastes in this department are highly evolved, wanted more, but it’s safe to say that that is what made the show such a bombshell.
The Buccaneers: 30/60
The Buccaneers is worth your time. But Shonda remains undefeated!