Amazon’s Fleabag offers an amusing look at one woman’s struggle with grief
Amazon’s Fleabag is the best new comedy that you’re not watching. Hell, it might be the best new comedy that you’ve never even heard of. While the streaming network houses one of the most critically lauded comedies in Transparent, other Amazon shows fly very discreetly under the radar. Catastrophe has received acclaim, but only one Emmy nomination thus far, for example. Fleabag‘s dark humor is enough to bring people in, but if you dig into this short first season, you will find a complicated examination of one woman’s personal struggle with grief.
One of the things you’ll notice about Fleabag is how much its lead, played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, speaks directly to the camera. Her character’s name is never uttered, but she shares the name of the series. Constantly talking to the audience is a device that grows tiresome in most shows (looking at you, early years of Sex and the City!), but you realize that you are not an audience she’s trying to impress or titillate. We, as an audience, are her friend. Fleabag winks at us while she flirts with guys on the bus, giggles at the comments she makes about her sister, and even comments mid-thrust on the sex she’s having.
The show is described as a young woman navigating her life through London, and that generalization might not interest the casual viewer. Waller-Bridge’s interactions with every single character is reason enough to watch Fleabag. While her hook up scenes are hilarious, the best back and forth is between her and Olivia Colman who plays her godmother. Colman’s grand artist invaded the family soon after Fleabag’s mother died and she married into the family. Fleabag now feels like a visitor in the home she grew up in, and Colman’s sugary sweet smile is present almost every moment on screen. How did her face not hurt after filming her scenes? No disrespect to Imelda Staunton, but she makes a real case that she should have played Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter franchise.
While Fleabag is painfully and awkwardly funny at times, there is a sadness to it that permeates through the final two episodes. Our central character is flailing–her and her devoted (and too nice) boyfriend have recently broken up, her sister is up for a promotion in another country, and her business is floundering. She runs a guinea pig themed cafe, but after her business partner (and best friend) accidentally kills herself, she quite literally spends most of her workdays in an empty space with animal pictures plastered all over the walls. Any more about the plot would give too much away, so we will leave it at that.
At the glorious center is Waller-Bridge, a fiercely smart comedic talent. Adapting Fleabag from her own one-woman show, she is able to imbue her character with a lovable ease and charming bite. She’s the type of friend you’d like to have at a party when you don’t know anyone, but you’d subconsciously be watching how many drinks she downs. Fleabag has a tendency to wreak some havoc, but any observer might be taken back by her quick wit and dark delivery.
Fleabag‘s first season is only six episodes, but it has a totally packaged feel to it. If it didn’t continue with a second season, it would still be a well-done exploration of a young woman’s scrappy quest to find what makes her happy. Watch this show. Be a fleabag.