I like to start my mornings with a good cry over Lena Dunham’s bittersweet Instagram posts chronicling the production of the final season of GIRLS. Dunham’s core audience of jaded millennial feminists (and internet trolls) has to dry its eyes and find a new show to watch (and criticize). With all the amazing television out there nowadays, there has to be at least one show fit to fill in. FLEABAG began life in England as a fringe theater one-woman-show, eventually finding a home on BBC and Amazon Prime. In six short episodes, FLEABAG captures the pitfalls of modern womanhood with an unmistakably British undercurrent of gut-punching despair, all through the eyes of a strong female antiheroine just as messed up as Hannah Horvath, but significantly less insufferable. In other words, it’s fucking amazeballs.
Rejected Designs for the British Flag
FLEABAG follows a young woman (known as “Fleabag”) as she navigates an especially tumultuous period in her life. The stylistic twist is that Fleabag addresses her audience a la HIGH FIDELITY and FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. This is generally considered a huge no-no in the world of film, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge pulls it off beautifully. Sometimes she takes a moment to wax poetic about her situation, other times it’s just a simple flick of an eyebrow, a sideways glance, or a smirk. Waller-Bridge’s awareness in her performance is off the charts. She carries this story with the strength of five armies and lends an incredible heart to the despondent Fleabag. I’m an outspoken Lena Dunham apologist, but the sensitivity of Waller-Bridge’s performance is the difference between grating, entitled Hannah and broken, relatable Fleabag.
I’m sorry, my love
FLEABAG sets itself apart from the rest of the “female millennial barely copes with the adult world” genre by tackling issues both general and specific. Fleabag sits through feminist lectures, racked with insecurity over not being a “good feminist,” because she doesn’t like the way her body looks. FLEABAG opens in the typical dark female comedy way with its heroine mid-coitus. However, Fleabag later explores the idea of enjoying not the physical sensation of sex, but the emotional fulfillment of being wanted. It manages to be incredibly specific and broad all at once, and resonates all the more deeply for it.
Although Fleabag undoubtedly carries her show, she is not without a cast of colorful and complicated side characters. Everyone, even those characters who only appear for a moment, and others you never truly meet at all, has a voice and an intention. Fleabag’s stepmother, in particular, starts as kind of a bitch and escalates to throw-your-laptop-out-the-window levels of outrage. Even Fleabag’s random hookups have at least a small character arc. It blows my mind that such a short show (only three hours!!) manages to pull off a depth of character for such a broad cast.
Literally every character
I’m going to be a bad journalist and not disclose the full story of this show in this review because it was so beautiful to watch unfold. FLEABAG is hilarious in every way a show should be. It’ll make you laugh with its characters, little one-off gags, and even a handful of LOUIE-esque dips into surrealism. Yet, all these jokes operate as kind of papier-mâché around a core of unrelenting sadness. Even in this show’s funniest moments, it’s there waiting, ever-present in Fleabag’s mind as much as the viewer’s. It is the real narrative thrust of this season and carries the overall theme, but in a way you don’t even realize until it’s almost over, making you miss it when it ends. Again, bad journalist, but you really need to experience it for yourself.
Perhaps FLEABAG’s only obvious flaw is that it feels relatively complete after season one. There are a few half set-ups in the final episode, but the first season feels like a cohesive unit. This is probably due to the source material, as expansion would mean venturing into unexplored creative territory. I truly hope they can come up with more to do with this because I love it so much, but I have to wonder if they can or will (though, with Amazon throwing money at THE TICK, anything is possible…).
Proving that all you need to make it in Hollywood is a great butt
FLEABAG is as amazing as it is short. If you don’t make a living saving human lives or campaigning against Donald Trump, you have nothing better to do with the three hours it takes to watch this show. If you want great performance, you’ve got it. If you want great characters, you’ve got it. If you want great style, structure, editing, costume, and production design, it’s all waiting for you. This is a show that makes you cancel plans after you watch it because you need to process what just happened to you. Stop what you’re doing. Stop reading this. Go on Amazon Prime. Watch FLEABAG.
Do it. Now.