After yesterday’s review, you’re back in the mood for more feminist fare and British accents. So let me strongly recommend Fleabag, one of the best new comedies of 2016.
The show originated as a one-woman play that made it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (and won top prize) in 2013, and was developed into a six-episode series earlier this year. Fleabag is a breakout, star-making role for creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also stars as the main character. Interestingly, we never learn her name. She is simply listed as “Fleabag” in the credits.
At first, Fleabag seems like an above-average yet very typical and of-the-moment comedy: raunchy empowerment meets dry British wit, Broad City meets Pulling. The first episode is laugh-out-loud funny, and we are instantly charmed by Fleabag as she breaks the fourth wall while floundering her way through romantic encounters, an awkward appointment at the bank, and a fraught outing with her older sister. Fleabag, both the character and the show itself, is funny and smart and #relatable to any millennial who’s felt the struggle of “adulting.”
As Fleabag confides in us, we realize she’s also only telling us as much as she wants us to know. In a devastating moment in the first episode, we learn that her dead mother isn’t the only person she’s mourning. And that perhaps her rollicking lifestyle is just a defense mechanism. Maybe she’s not as carefree as she seems.
The show remains hilarious and inappropriate, but the more we’re pulled into Fleabag’s orbit, the more we realize this is not just a comedy. There are more reveals about her past, and every interaction between Fleabag, her Dad, and her Godmother/Stepmother is more painful than the last.
Your mileage may vary, but I essentially cried straight through the last three episodes.
But I promise it’s a good, cathartic cry, as Fleabag goes from just feeling #relatable to feeling painfully honest and real. There’s so much brilliant, specific work in every relationship on the show: Fleabag’s best friend, Boo. Her overly-sweet, on again/off again boyfriend. Painfully awkward recurring hookups. Her frustrating, antagonistic, but ultimately loving older sister. Her clueless but well-meaning father. And her sneering, artsy, faux-nice Godmother/Stepmother.
Everyone who has had a best friend/boyfriend/hookup/sister/father/stepmother will find these interactions ring startlingly true. And I promise, it’s still also hilariously funny. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s fourth-wall-breaking expressions and deadpan deliveries are fantastic, and she excels at awkward physical humor, too.
The supporting cast is just as great, with Olivia Colman in particular absolutely stealing the show. Those who are used to seeing her as the strong-yet-sensitive, no-nonsense type* will especially delight in seeing her play the cloying Godmother/Stepmother, whose superficial niceness is only transparent to us and to Fleabag. (*yesterday’s aforementioned Broadchurch, also The Night Manager)
On the surface, Fleabag doesn’t have much at all in common with yesterday’s feature, Happy Valley. But they’re both smart, compelling, and addictive. What a joy it is that they both star such flawlessly flawed, real-feeling women. Here’s to two of my favorite shows and performances of 2016, and here’s to hoping we see even more challenging, unique roles like these for women in 2017.