On paper, Fleabag shouldn’t work. It’s a ‘sitcom’ about a juvenile, middle class woman who never gets anything right. So far, so Miranda. However, those inverted commas are well placed, because whereas Miranda is a jolly, colourful and optimistic farce, Fleabag is dour, downbeat, nihilistic and cruel. It won’t be for everyone. However, it worked perfectly for me.
Fleabag is resolutely adult. Its opening scene is a litmus test for the series as a whole. If you don’t like cold and graphic monologues about sex acts, then it’s not for you. If you dig deeper however, and you’ll find a wealth of profound and uncomfortable truths about our society.
The lead character, Fleabag, played by writer/producer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, can be really unpleasant. Her dry-witted attitude can slip into cold smugness at the drop of a hat. However, the pain and unhappiness underneath her know-it-all exterior is what drives the series. You want her to change, to connect to people emotionally rather than just physically, and to finally be happy. In a lot of ways, Fleabag shares a lot of similarities with Nadine, the lead character from the superb The Edge of Seventeen, a teen comedy film with a unlikable protagonist who you learn to love.
During the six-episode series, Fleabag breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience frequently. She confides in us and makes us complicit in her immoral actions. She lets us in on her cruel thoughts and sometimes she makes us laugh. Sometimes she predicts things before they happen, sometimes she predicts things and gets them completely, terribly wrong. It’s this twist on the tired ‘talk to the camera’ tactic which yields the most interesting results.
There are lots of stand-out characters; Claire, Fleabag’s stressed, downtrodden sister, seems like she could be annoying but becomes someone you really care for. The brilliant Bill Paterson plays her exasperated, distant father and his character is an interesting enigma, and his true feelings and ideas are buried deep down. Brett Gelman plays the repulsive Martin with incredible sleaze, and Olivia Colman is a vile delight as Fleabag’s horrible stepmother. Hugh Dennis also plays a key role which is something for you to discover as a viewer, but he plays the role beautifully.
However, the real star is Waller-Bridge. Every line, every look, every moment is hers. She commands the screen and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. You go through every emotion towards her, but you are always hoping she redeems herself. There is a moment in the final episode which is so shocking that is throws everything that the show has told you up in the air.
As a comedy, the programme is strange. I barely laughed for the entire series but I was gripped. The comedy comes from the satirising of modern Britain. No one is safe from Fleabag’s disdain.
There is a reason that Waller-Bridge has a role in the new Han Solo film and the BBC has commissioned her to write a detective series. She’s a star, and the front runner to take over Doctor Who. If you don’t believe me, watch Fleabag. You will spend a lot of time in shocked silence, but you’ll be moved and you won’t forget it for a long time.
Fleabag will return to the small screen for a second series in 2018. The first is available on Amazon Prime. Image source: Theatlantic.com