In the era of tragic-comedies, it takes a lot for one to stand out from the crowd. FLEABAG, the bitingly funny and heartbreaking British import, stands on its own from the get go. Unlike others of the genre, Fleabag makes the audience laugh out loud from the delightfully crude humor, and then stabs you in the gut with painfully real tragedy. It plays the high points of both genres, never settling for the mediocre middle ground.
Fleabag stars creator and playwright Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the titular role of the unnamed Fleabag. The series follows her through sexual encounters, terse familial relationships, and a recent death that tempers all of the former. The six episode format works well for slowly unrolling the tragedy that shadows over every aspect of the protagonist’s life. The sex, theft, and mischief, while delightfully gleeful in the moment, take on a dark aspect when contrasted with the recent “accidental suicide” of her best friend, Boo (Jenny Rainsford.)
The first episode ends with the lead drunkenly explaining her loss to a cab driver in a speech that should earn Waller-Bridge an Emmy in both writing and acting. More details of the death, and the circumstances around it seep into the small moments of the series, whether it be Fleabag trying to keep her café in business. going on a silent retreat with her sister (the wonderful Sian Clifford), or the occasional glimpse of Boo in the abrupt but meaningful flashbacks.
The flashbacks, as well as Waller-Bridge’s frequent breaking of the fourth wall could appear gimmicky in many situations, but none are a second longer than they need to be. This is another way that the six episode season benefits Fleabag. With less than three hours of total runtime there is not a second to lose, sparing Fleabag from suffering from the Netflix syndrome of overstuffed episodes. In addition, Waller-Bridge’s deliver is almost an an act of genius, as she asides to the audience about all the terrible and nasty thoughts that run through her head.
This is demonstrated within the first three minutes of the series, which aptly sets the comedic tone for the whole show. After a sexual encounter with an unnamed good-looking man (Ben Aldridge, credited as “Arsehole Guy”), he tells her she was the first person who let him go “up the bum” as he so delicately puts it. “And you spend the rest of the day wondering,” Waller Bridge recalls to the audience, letting the pause really sink in with the audience, until… “do I have a massive asshole?” The opening title flashes across the screen.
Within that cold open, everything is laid out. This show will be about sex. Real, non Sex in the City sex, and this series will be as honest and self-deprecating as its lead. It says to the potential viewers, if you don’t like this, then this is not the show for you. Fleabag presents a look at the ugly sex and life from the perspective of a woman who is very sad and very sexual: a combination seen more from the male perspective but rarely from the female point of view, and especially not with such nuance.
Fleabag is ultimately a show about women and the men who happen to stumble their beds, which is refreshing role reversal. The story that Waller-Bridge tells could only be told from a female perspective, and it makes no attempt to hide that. The most compelling relationships are the begrudging love between Fleabag and her sister, the mutual distaste between her and her stepmother, and the tragedy of a lost friendship between her and Boo. It makes each of these women messy and hilarious and so far from perfect that they feel like real people.
Fleabag is the kind of comedy that will make you burst out into laughter one minute, and make your gut sink the next. It is brutal, simply put, but it is brutal in the way that only good television can be.
Raina spends most of her time watching television and trying to find the perfect bagel and lox, because she likes being emotionally distraught.
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Raina Deerwater | Contributor