Social Isolation Review: “Fleabag”

By Morgan Roberts

This is a love story.

“Fleabag,” Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s award-winning series, is a masterpiece.  I do not say that lightly. But it is true.

Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) is a quirky, sometimes crude woman attempting to live her life.  Season 1 introduces us to her life, her family, her friends. She is a mess. Her life is a mess,  Her mother has passed and now her father (Bill Paterson) is dating her Godmother (Olivia Colman).  She has a strenuous relationship with her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford).  And her best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford) has died.  She sleeps with any man she sees, complicating her relationships.  She can be cold and callous. But she is also always trudging through an existential crisis.  She does so begrudgingly and fighting against it with all her might. While a comedy, it is heartbreaking at times to see someone so earnestly strive for something spiral instead.

fleabage episode 1
Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag (2016) © 2016 Amazon Studios

Season 2 shifts from the end of the first season.  We find Fleabag actually working to better herself and not in a sarcastic, half-hearted manner like before.  She works on her cafe and finds success there, she has stopped sleeping around, and she is learning to forgive and love herself.  But with Fleabag, progress cannot be simple. A wrench is thrown into her life when she meets a priest (Andrew Scott) – the infamous Hot Priest™.

andrew fleabag
Andrew Scott in Fleabag (2016) © 2016 Amazon Studios

The show is remarkable in several areas.  First, the cast is impeccable. Their timing with the material feels just innate.  The actors not only know their characters well but one another’s characters. They understand how to move amongst each other both in their physicality and their dialogue.

Secondly, the direction is stellar.  “Fleabag” is based on a play of the same name – also written and performed by Waller-Bridge.  Directed by Harry Bradbeer, the show has a bit of a stage feel – almost like a Mike Nicholas film – while also using the medium to enhance the story.  Bradbeer uses the breaking of the fourth wall regularly – not just in the scripted moments but peppered in to always keep that flowing.

“The show is remarkable in several areas.  First, the cast is impeccable. Their timing with the material feels just innate….Secondly, the direction is stellar….Lastly, the strongest element of “Fleabag” is the writing.”

Lastly, the strongest element of “Fleabag” is the writing.  Waller-Bridge knows how to masterfully convey every emotion.  There are humorous quips such as where her sister remarks, “God, I can’t wait to be old” and Fleabag comes back with, “If it’s any consolation, you look older than you are” or when the pair goes to a silent retreat and as they wait, a man at another retreat yells, “SLUTS,” and Fleabag turns responding, “Yes?”

phoebe and sian fleabag
Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Sian Clifford in Fleabag (2016) © 2016 Amazon Studios

The parts that resonate in particular are the more moving moments.  It is when a crying Fleabag proclaims, “Either everyone feels like this a little bit and they’re just not talking about it… Or I am completely fucking alone.  Which isn’t fucking funny.” It is Fleabag being told, “I think you know how to love better than any of us. That’s why you find it all so painful…” And it is The Priest saying, “And love isn’t something weak people do.”  Every episode has statements which reflect our worries, our fears, our vulnerabilities.

With only twelve episodes in the entire series, “Fleabag” moves quickly.  Waller-Bridge crams a lot into those thirty-minute episodes. “Fleabag,” at the end of the day, has always been a love story.  Our love for Fleabag and all of our own messy truths.

Available now on Amazon Prime.

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