Created By: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Cast: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Bill Patterson, Brett Gelman
Playwright Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s exceptional half-hour series Fleabag is a raw, honest, and often uproarious portrait of a young single woman’s life in London that somehow manages to avoid all of the genre’s tropes and pitfalls. Waller-Bridge stars at the title character, narrating her life and giving knowing glances to the camera, using it to make us confidants and partners in crime, as well as to admonish our assumptions, or to confirm how absurd a situation is. And while the likable and relatable Fleabag likes pointing out other’s faults, she’s not always easy on herself, either. Struggling through modern dating (where there’s plenty of humor to be found), she’s also haunted, increasingly over the first season’s 6 episodes, by the recent and unexpected death of her best friend. It’s a dark river coursing through the season that, as in real life, floods over in unexpected moments.
Fleabag is charming and openly confessional about sex, grief, loneliness, and financial frustrations, and Waller-Bridge does an exceptional job of making viewers feel like we’re right there with her through each humiliation and dark realization, even though it’s masked with an extremely clever, dry-witted humor. Fleabag is never too dark, though (its finale almost disrupts that notion), even when it’s disarmingly honest. A particularly aching moment happens in the fourth episode when Fleabag and her perfectionist sister Claire (the excellent Clifford) go to a silent retreat, and she sees a loan officer she had a heated exchange within the premiere. She sits in silence while he details what he really wants in the wake of his personal transgressions—to just go home and unload the dishwasher and watch his wife drink a cup of coffee—to which Fleabag answers, finally, breaking her silence, “I just want to cry all the time.”
She resists, but the acknowledgment of the impulse is as emotionally raw as it comes. Marrying an exceptional comedic sensibility while allowing its characters to have real feelings, doubts, and fears is what elevates the series past its more shallow or scattered dating-centric counterparts. Fleabag unpacks the life of a complicated young woman—with all of its pain, insecurity, anger, humor, friendship, impulses, and more—with a unique sensibility that makes it essential viewing. — Allison Keene