Amazon’s Dark, Dirty, Hysterical Comedy
Sometimes, when a brilliant series starts and I don’t initially get involved, the longer it stays on the air I will continue to ignore it, despite the accolades and awards. This is especially true of a lot of the streaming series where I can never find the time for binge watching, even if I believed in such a thing.
This seemed to be true of Fleabag, Amazon’s beloved British import by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a woman who in just three years seems to be becoming a national treasure. I’d loved much of her work for Killing Eve, but I couldn’t see the point in getting involved in a Britcom. Then came the eleven nominations for Season 2 and the huge amount of recognition from the TCA. When I learned that the entire series was just going to be twelve episodes, I decided to get involved.
Fleabag is a very dark show about an unnamed Englishwoman (Waller-Bridge herself) who seems the definition of the antiheroine I have discussed in regard to other series. She drinks heavily, she has a difficult relationship with her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford) and both of them have an awkward relationship with their father (Bill Patterson). Their mother died three years earlier, and he has fallen in love with their Godmother (Olivia Colman, who next to Waller-Bridge is the best thing about this show) an egomaniacal artist whose major subject seems to be a ‘Sexhibition’, where among other things, she puts plaster models of penises out on display, and who seems to have no problem blotting their mother out of the picture.
Fleabag is a woman who has random one-night stands, drinks excessively, and a la Frank Underwood, will constantly make remarks to the camera when we think nobody’s looking. She spent much of Season 1 trying to find funding for a café that she founded with her friend ‘Boo’, who seemed to accidentally kill herself before the series began. The only person she tries to have a real relationship with is Claire, and even then there’s an awkwardness that neither of them can deal with him. When her husband tries to kiss her at a party, she holds off telling Claire about it, mainly for her to take a promotion to Finland.
Season 1 climaxed where everything in the world seemed to collapse around Fleabag. Her sister accused her of trying to kiss her husband, her father called her out on her horrible behavior to her godmother, and she finally seemed to deal with the root cause of Boo’s death — her boyfriend had broken up with her because Fleabag had slept with him a few days before. In a epiphany, she seemed to realize that she was the kind of person who ‘fucks’ everything up, and it gave the tiniest way to move forward.
The second season — which Waller-Bridge insists will be the final one, despite Amazon’s hopes — opened with an episode that critics considered one of the great episodes of 2019. Taking place about a year after the first season, it is set at an engagement party between the Godmother and Father. Fleabag is on her very best behavior, but that doesn’t seem to stop this from being the most awkward celebration is the history of television. The daughters don’t want to pretend their happy for the their father, Claire and her husband are abstaining from alcohol, and Fleabag doesn’t want to talk at all, so all of the conversation seems to be directed at the priest officiating the wedding (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott) who is incredibly handsome, and seems unable to stop dropping obscenities in every other sentence. The longer the night goes on, the more ridiculous the conversation becomes, until Claire heads for the bathroom in the middle of the dinner, and Fleabag’s finds that she’s had a miscarriage. Claire won’t go to the hospital, and against all reason, goes back to the table. Fleabag finally explodes, and, in it what is becoming a habit for this series, finds a way to make it all about her. I’m not going to reveal how the episode ends (this is something that the viewer show see for themselves) but it ends in perhaps the only possible way that could get the sisters back together — as well as one of the great punchlines in the history of television.
Fleabag is one of the most dark, delirious journeys in television today. Waller-Bridge, who in addition to starring in, has written and produced the series, is clearly just as good an actress and comedienne as she is a writer for dramatic series. Fleabag goes out of her way to make us resent her, but there’s something genuine likable about her that we don’t see in so many comedies today. But she’s not the whole story. Sian Clifford, who deservedly got an Emmy nomination for her work as Claire, does a marvelous job as someone who is put upon by the world, and yet seems forever in her sister’s shadow. (During the premiere episode, her own family didn’t seem to know that she was a business planner, not a lawyer.) And Colman, who already had a reputation as one of the great actresses in television, is absolutely uproarious, as the Godmother, whose every sentence seems designed to put down anyone she talks to. Could Colman take an Emmy for Comic Acting before she gets one for Drama when she begins her work in The Crown this November?
This is a premature viewing, I admit. I haven’t even begun to follow through with the rest of Season 2, which features an Emmy-nominated turn from one of my other famous actress, Kirstin Scott-Thomas, as the absolute opposite of a motivational speaker. But I can see why Amazon doesn’t want the second season to be the last one. Fleabag has already revealed itself to be one of the better treasures in an already crowded streaming service. One can hardly wait to see what Waller-Bridge will come up with next.
My score: 4.75 stars.