Satirical, horny and grief-riddled...
‘A masterpiece - I’m completely floored’ was just one of many ecstatic reactions sprawling the internet after the season finale of Fleabag. If you haven’t seen it, you might have heard about the show’s sexy priest, or the anal scene that launches the first season with, ‘you realise he’s edging towards your asshole. But you’re drunk, and he made the effort to come all the way here...’ If you haven’t experienced this raw and sardonic tragicomedy yet, it’s time to change that because the response to this dazzling TV series makes one thing clear: we’ve never seen anything like it.
Fleabag is written by and stars the unspeakably talented, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who was also behind the hit thriller Killing Eve. Fleabag, which started as a theatre monologue at Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, tells the story of a broken women who recently lost her mother and is struggling to run a guinea pig cafe alone after the tragic death of her best friend. She attempts to cope with all this by, ‘using sex to deflect from the screaming void inside my empty heart.’
Sounds bleak. But have you ever noticed how hilarious it is to be in a room full of extremely serious people? Or the kind of laughter that breaks inappropriately in the face of catastrophe? Some things are so true it makes them devastatingly funny. This is the humour Fleabag evokes throughout and especially when she breaks the fourth wall to share a mischievous comment with the audience, usually predicting a darkly amusing scene about to befall her dysfunctional family.
Fleabag’s family consists of some farcically extreme characters: an emotionally-inarticulate father that can never finish a sentence; an uptight sister, Claire, who is married to literally the worst person and a stepmother who hides her cruelty behind a saccharine smile. In the second season, a potty-mouthed Irish priest arrives, bringing with him a dramatic choral soundtrack and a confession booth scene that sexually awakens the entire internet. More than an erotic thrill though, the priest’s presence crystalizes some of Fleabag’s foundational themes: love, confession and redemption.
The show is packed with ingenious conceits: what happens when you show up to a funeral looking too good? And what does a rehabilitation centre for toxic masculinity look like? As well as staggeringly profound speeches including ‘why hair is everything’. Even the show’s supposedly throwaway lines like, ‘Oh, I love courgettes. You can treat them appallingly and they still grow!’ are pure gold. Fleabag makes you laugh so much you could cry and hits you in the gut so hard you actually do. But the compassion at its core, for the flawed characters and also for the audience (which ultimately represents Fleabag herself) gently guide us to the point where we too can face the pain and injustice of being alive and agree, it will pass.
This isn’t just a series about the troubles of the privileged and repressed British, nor is it simply a tale about a damaged but sexually-liberated women, though it is both of those things. It’s a musing on what it means to suffer love. As if being the most entertaining thing on television wasn’t enough, the real reason Fleabag connected with so many people is its humanity. It’s no wonder fans were left heartbroken at Waller-Bridge’s decision to end it at season two. Love is awful.