Season 1: 5 stars
Season 2: 5 stars
BBC’s tragicomedy (yes, this genre exists) Fleabag centers around its titular role Fleabag (played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a young woman living in London, with the first season focusing on the feelings of guilt and grief, while the second exploring the themes of love and sin. Originally based on Waller-Bridge’s 2013 one-woman show that premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe, the TV series presents a more coherent production while retaining its interactive nature with the protagonist constantly breaking the fourth wall, voicing her thoughts out loud to the audience and staring straight into the camera while doing so.
The most difficult part of the show is certainly bringing the two worlds of comedy and tragedy together, yet Waller-Bridge executes it flawlessly, both with her sharp writing and her acting. Fleabag’s dark, witty comments are often intertwined with her painful losses. This perfect blend is not exclusive to Fleabag but is vividly played out in other characters and scenes. The most thought-provoking words are often juxtaposed with the most hysterical jokes, yet it just works. Both the scenes where Fleabag visits her counselor (played by Fiona Shaw) and where the businesswoman Belinda (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) rants about the pains of being a woman exemplify this tone perfectly. One way Waller-Bridge retains the essence of her one-woman-show in this series is, as mentioned before, breaking the fourth wall. Many who choose this approach use a fixed screen and a voiceover, but Waller-Bridge directly incorporates this into her acting, a choice that is clearly fully intentional This brings out the comedic elements, even at the most unexpected moments and creates a seamless style of storytelling that bridges the play and the series.
What stands out the most for me is not the cinematography nor the acting but the story itself. It is meaningful, impactful, beautifully written and poignantly delivered - it’s been a while since I have related to a protagonist this much. The two seasons are so similar yet so different. The first season is a multidimensional story that unravels as Fleabag runs away from but eventually faces her trauma and losses and her way to cope with everything through copious amounts of sex. She is both the hero and the villain. The very first episode already hints that Fleabag is more than just a comedy. It features Fleabag’s monologue as she turns up at her father’s doorstep at two in the morning, “I have a horrible feeling I am a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist.” Fleabag puts on a facade of a put-together woman but when you look underneath it’s riddled with insecurities and shattered pieces of her heart. Sometimes it feels like we’ve fucked everything up but it’s life and we can’t run away from life. The first season ends with a speckle of hope and would have been an amazing standalone, but the second season adds a necessary layer to the already-perfect show.
In the second season, we see a brand new Fleabag, trying to let go of the past and move on to the future, and she meets someone, more specifically, a Catholic priest (played by Andrew Scott, and dubbed as “the hot priest” all over the internet). As Fleabag puts it, “This is a love story.” Indeed it is but not just Fleabag’s, but also her sister Claire’s (played by Sian Clifford) as well as her father’s (played by Bill Paterson) and godmother’s (played by Olivia Colman). Here we see Waller-Bridge delving deep into many forms of love, with the iconic line “I think you know how to love better than any of us. That’s why you find it all so painful.” It’s amazing that even with such a short series, there is phenomenal character development, and every character has a moment of redemption or vulnerability. Every detail, every scene, every line is exquisitely crafted. The ending is heartbreakingly beautiful, with Alabama Shakes’s “This Feeling” adding the perfect touch to the final scene.
It’s been confirmed that the second season is the final season of Fleabag, perhaps because Waller-Bridge feels like she has told the story she needs to tell. Her brutally candid writing combined with her skillful performance has created a show that is so endearing, hilarious, and emotional. It’s so shockingly relatable that I keep finding shadows of myself with Fleabag’s every emotional breakdown, and there is no doubt that this has risen to the top of the list of my favorite shows of all time.