All episodes written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
I love British sitcoms so much. I am especially amazed that in one year Phoebe Waller-Bridge was able to create and produce two very different series that she both wrote and starred in and got on the air at the same time. 2016 was a very busy year for her, and we are so lucky that she graced us with these two series (the first was Crashing, which I reviewed just last week on this blog).
If I had to describe Fleabag to someone I would firstly state how much it is a child of the show Miranda, created by the great Miranda Hart. On that show, the main character would alternate between interacting with her life and goings-on, but constantly break the fourth wall and engage with the viewing audience, providing either asides, sarcastic and passive aggressive comments, or fill us in on important details. Miranda also owned her own business and worked with her blonde best friend. Invasive family members would appear, and her romantic misadventures were the primary focus of most episodes. In the scant and extremely bingeable six episodes that make up this first season of the show, Waller-Bridge shows how much she owes to her predecessor. Fleabag, also the only name we know the protagonist as, centers on a woman barely holding it all together. She self-sabotages constantly, especially in the romantic department, her business is on the verge of failure, she can’t seem to get along with her family, she is reeling from some form of trauma that isn’t fully explained until the last episode. And it’s a comedy!
We meet Fleabag as she is preparing for a booty call. She explains to the audience the awful truths of being a single woman who desires sex, but must appear aloof, disinterested, and in no way desperate. She also must be game for just about anything to hold onto a man, if only for the night, minimizing herself in order to achieve what it is she wants. The man just gets to ask for something and the request is immediately granted. A brilliant commentary that affects while also entertaining and provoking laughter. Fleabag owns a small café that is decorated with a guinea pig theme and she doesn’t really seem to know what she’s doing. She barely can tolerate her uptight, perfect, wealthy sister, her lascivious and disgusting American brother in law, and her passive and put-upon father, who married her godmother a few short years after his wife’s passing. Also, Fleabag’s best friend, who she owned the café with, has recently died. As I said, it’s a comedy!
Waller-Bridge is clearly gonna be a major star, she has to. Just like Michaela Coel from Chewing Gum, her point of view is specific, phenomenally drawn, and yet relatable and funny all at once. It doesn’t hurt that just like Coel, Waller-Bridge is affable and likable, in spite of some of her less than stellar or admirable behavior. Fleabag also made the brilliant choice of casting the amazing Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, The Lobster) in the role of godmother-stepmother. In the hands of a lesser actress the role, which doesn’t even have a proper name, could have been overplayed, carpet could have been chewed, and a caricature of a horrible person would have been the final result. But Colman is a smart and capable actress. She provides the role with the proper balance of feigned kindness and naiveté, masquerading a duplicitous cunning nature of resentment and disdain. She is simply amazing, and I loved to hate her.
Fleabag has very much its own singular voice, in spite of its similarities to other shows and female fronted sitcoms. It sets itself apart by not shying away from the ugliness of its characters, and finds a balance of comedy, tragedy, and entertainment. The show, which Stateside streams on Amazon Prime, will be returning next year for a second series, and I, for one, am sold. I cannot wait for more from Waller-Bridge, and will be keeping my eye out for her, because she has proven that she is a true force to be reckoned with.