I am currently in mourning, at the end of a well loved franchise that was very dear to my heart. No, I’m not talking about Avengers: Endgame – this is about Fleabag.
Created by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, this two season British comedy is truly unique in so many ways and it is sheer brilliance. It follows a young woman as she stumbles through a messy life trying to make it work whilst dealing with bigger traumas at the same time. This woman is Fleabag, and she’s our guide through it all too.
Originally a stage play of the same name, the television show first aired on BBCthree in 2016, with it’s second season being released last month. It’s quirky, irreverent and intelligent humour has hooked so many people of all walks of life, and it really has felt like a bit of magic captured on screen.
The style is so anarchistic – it’s very brutal at many points, a total brilliant shitshow.
It’s like Fleabag is being followed by a documentary crew that only she knows about – she’ll flick between her life and sharing with the show like they’re two separate worlds.
What I love about it is the honesty it has about life, all portrayed with that crackling wit that just jumps out the screen at you. You wouldn’t think that a series about someone dealing with a new evil stepmother in the wake of their mother and best friend’s death without anyone massively supportive would be funny, but it is. It is really funny.
It’s brash and unapologetic: it doesn’t have an agenda to be scandalous and outspoken; it just is because it doesn’t hold back on honesty. These are things we all experience (to some extent), and we can all relate to them. They just haven’t necessarily been portrayed on television yet.
And there isn’t a line when it comes to sharing; Waller-Bridge turns to the camera whenever she has a thought to share, which quite frequently happens while she’s having sex.
What I got from watching the show, and what I think many others did as well, was what felt like affirmation and acknowledgement. That this is the human experience. That nobody really knows what they’re doing; you can quite often feel very alone and everything always has a habit of going wrong at once. You can stumble around with that for a long time, and Fleabag certainly does.
“You know, either everyone feels like this a little bit, or they’re just not talking about it, or I am completely fucking alone. Which really isn’t fucking funny.”Episode #1.6
The writing is phenomenal, with every episode penned exclusively by Waller-Bridge. Her style is so ingenious, something honestly special to watch. It’s hard to explain why, it’s just totally unique – she’s invented her own genre of writing almost. She also writes for the hit BBC America show Killing Eve, and you can always tell which lines she’s written just by watching. She’s recently been brought onto write for the upcoming twenty fifth Bond film on Daniel Craig’s request nonetheless, which is beyond exciting. If James Bond breaks the fourth wall and turns to the camera to share his innermost thoughts I will scream like a gleeful banshee.
In Fleabag, it’s as personal as it gets. As the Independent’s Fiona Sturges put it, it will make you “pinball between laughter, astonishment and utter devastation, sometimes in the space of a minute“.
All episodes are directed by Harry Bradbeer, with assistance from Tim Kirkby on the very first episode. Because it’s always the same heads behind it (the Waller-Bridge/ Bradbeer duo), the whole series has a very clear flow to it that doesn’t break once. Most importantly, Fleabag herself is never painted in a directly bad light. It’s unbiased to her, nonjudgmental and just shows her for what she is.
I love it.
Season one is a very melancholy, and painful. It’s very funny, but as the episodes progress you start to unfrock the trauma that Fleabag is hiding deep inside somewhere; and by that point you’re already massively invested in her as a character so it hurts you too.
Season two takes all the skill and brilliance of season one and cranks it up a notch. Every episode is electric, and it has such a perfect, bittersweet yet grounded ending. If season one is grief and pain, then season two is growth and acceptance.
This woman is fantastically terrible.
She is unlike any other woman I’ve seen onscreen – she is so open about the things usually, women in particular are meant to keep quiet about. Primarily about sex, and everything that comes with it, from anal to masturbating to Barack Obama speeches.
While many elements of her are cool and hedonistic, she’s also self-sabotaging, grief and guilt stricken and alone in it all. She is deeply troubled, and I think in the literal sense, Fleabag retorting to the camera 24/7 is her way to not feel truly alone with it all.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays her so, so well and obviously, as you;d expect from the creator and writer of the character has such a clear understanding of who this character is.
She can be scarily relatable, and is ultimately a sometimes sad, actually developing for the better, strong mess. It’s hard not to love her.
Fleabag’s sister is like her mirror image. Seemingly with the perfect life, she’s assertive and professional, and almost definitely mostly trying to be someone she is not. You care as much for her development as you do Fleabag’s. Sian Clifford is just (I’m going to use this word again) brilliant, and her chemistry with Waller-Bridge is mad. I was disappointed that they weren’t real life sisters.
Her husband, Martin, is a chaotic, alcoholic, misogynistic pig of a man with a vibrant personality that you just want to punch in the face. Brett Gelman plays him far too well, to the point where I’m unsettled by his face alone. Ugh, he makes my skin crawl.
He also has a creepy teenage son who is rarely seen, but the idea of him is just snort worthy.
Dad and Godmother
The sister’s father is a very interesting character, someone who might at first assessment seem hopeless but on further investigation, might just like it the way it is. The great Bill Paterson is very sweet in this basic archetype role, a perfect contradiction to….
Olivia Colman as the Godmother-come-stepmother is, as Fleabag herself puts it is “not an evil stepmother, she’s just a CUNT!“. Colman is just hideously brilliant at being this sugary sweet pure bitch, who says biting comments with a welcoming grin on her face. God she is crazy good, a massive highlight of the series.
the love interests
I’m going to do a quick run down of the love interests:
Harry: a sweet, undeserving man.
Arsehole man: Gorgeous tosser.
Tooth man: God what a mess.
Hot Misogynist: Clue’s in the name.
Sexy priest: He was the closest we got, but he’s riddled with issues. A stepping stone for Fleabag in her personal development – Andrew Scott is in his element in this role.
Hugh Dennis appears semi-regularly as a bank manager who once wronged Fleabag, and I have to say his presence is somewhat comforting for some reason.
Kristin Scott Thomas has a one episode appearance which leaves quite the impression and Fiona Shaw also crops up as a therapist Fleabag’s Dad gifts her a session with for her birthday (fucking brilliant).
The bittersweet tether of the entirety of the first season is Boo, Fleabag’s recently deceased best friend and business co-owner played by Jenny Rainsford. She’s only ever seen in very brief flashbacks, of which there are many. As she is always seen from Fleabag’s perspective in her own memories of her; it feels like a genuine loss of this wonderful, light person for the viewer too.
There’s also a guinea pig, with a whole cafe themed around him.
I think because so many of the characters, including the main protagonist, are unnamed means that you can relate your own life to it quite easily. It’s translatable, for anyone.
themes it tackles
Throughout all the comedy, Fleabag tackles some serious themes: bereavment, sex, hopelessness, guilt, religion, unhappy relationships and just being a mess in general. It doesn’t really discuss the way out of these situations, but what it does do is simply vocalise them. They’re real experiences that many of us have been through – maybe not all at once like in this show, but definitely to some extent. To see it recognised opens up the topic in your own mind, and that can be invaluable and so affirming.
To quote Fiona Sturges again, as she wrote an excellent piece on the show, Fleabag “articulates those things that many of us haven’t quite comprehended but absolutely know to be true”. That is dead on.
Fleabag truly is a show like no other. It’s genuinely hilarious, enlightening, empowering and tragic all at once. Phoebe Waller-Bridge has given us something really special, and unlike anything else.
I think if you get right down to the basics, the message of Fleabag is that while might be the worst feeling in the world to not have your shit together, so many other people don’t either.
And that might be okay.
Fleabag is available on BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime now