"Like Lady Whistledown, I have been keeping a secret for quite some time and I can confirm to you all that season 3 is Colin and Penelope's love story," Coughlan, 35, said at Netflix's FYSEE Space's opening night ATAS panel Sunday.
The decision to center season three around Colin (Luke Newton) and Penelope marks a shift from the previous two seasons, which followed books one and two of Julia Quinn's books.
The new showrunner, Jess Brownwell, told Variety that she feels "it's Colin and Penelope's time."
"Because we've been watching both of these actors on our screens since season 1, we've already invested in them a little bit. We know who they are as people," she said. "I feel like, especially in the last season, there are these moments of tension between them where it's like, Colin walks up to the line of almost realizing that Penelope has feelings for him but doesn't quite get there. Instead of treading water on that dynamic, we wanted to push it into their season. It really felt like the perfect moment to tee it up."
Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
The third book in the series follows the second Bridgerton son, Benedict, as he finds love. But Brownwell said that he will still be a "vital part of Season 3," even though the season won't follow his story.
Brownwell also confirmed that the third season will bring more of the same romance and tension as the first two. While she said she thinks of "Colin and Pen as being characters who bring a lot of comedy to the show," their story will still have the signature Bridgerton spice that fans know and love.
"I want to balance [the comedy] out with quite a bit of sexiness and romance. I think that's so important to the show. We'll get the chance to go deeper with them and push them to more serious sides and see what that looks like, so you'll be seeing new new levels."
Penelope and Colin's romance has been teased since early in Bridgerton's first season. While they have a strong friendship, fans have seen Penelope eagerly awaiting the moment Colin sees her as more than just a friend.
Newton said he sometimes browses the #Polin hashtag on Twitter to see what fans are thinking. "There's so much love for that relationship. Which brings its pressures because there are people that are really excited about this story to come to the forefront," he said. "But also it really warms me."
He said he loves that Pen and Colin's story is relatable to so many because it starts as a friendship and gradually becomes romantic from there.
Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
Showrunner Brownwell said that seeing these characters step "out of the shadows" and "into the sunshine" will be "really rewarding." As the third son, Colin tends to lay low in family drama and affairs –– if we exclude that one dramatic, failed engagement –– and Penelope juggles being Lady Whistledown and navigating the courting market.
While Penelope's weight and her own inner monologue about her body image is touched on in the books, Brownwell said that will not be part of the season's plot.
"We think that Penelope is beautiful, and I don't think it's really a part of her story. Her being a wallflower in our show I think is about her level of confidence more than it is about her outward appearance. So I think that's more what we're playing with this season."
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Seasons 1 and 2 of Bridgerton are available to stream on Netflix.