The first time nominee would be a worthy winner of Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Fleabag.
I was crossing all of my fingers for Fleabag to be represented at this year’s Emmy Awards, but I had no idea that the Amazon comedy would overperform so much. Many people predicted that recent Oscar winner Olivia Colman would nab an mention for her mean and smiley Godmother, but Clifford’s nomination came as a huge, satisfying surprise. The Television Academy clearly loved Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s second season, and Clifford’s restrained, emotional, and quietly funny performance would make for a great winner.
In the first season of Fleabag, Claire is at a somewhat distant place. Fleabag only occasionally sees her sister when they have formal engagements to be in one another’s company, but that changes in season two. When Fleabag and Claire begin to spend more time together, we watch a childhood bond between them slowly rebuilding. It’s not always said or spoken, but you can see it in how Clifford looks at Waller-Bridge. In the first season, she feels very much like an older, wiser sister, but in season two we can almost imagine them as children together.
When Claire allows emotions to crack through her restraint is when Clifford truly shines. In the first episode of the second season, it takes form in a very emotional moment in the restroom, but in her nominated episode, that unexpected release lends to comic gold. During a work function, we see Claire fully in charge as her company readies itself to celebrate women in business. Fleabag has catered the event, and their awkward, forever mending relationship allows them to butt heads in a way only siblings can. Claire obviously has feelings for her colleague, Klare, and she doesn’t expect a few Freudian slips to tumble out of her mouth (“It has to go like cockwork…cockwork.”).
Throughout the second season, Clifford shows off her ability to mix acidity with a dry delivery. In the infamous engagement dinner scene she does it briskly by telling the waitress that her meal is delicious even though she just the sauce disgusting, and in her nominated episode she spits out commands to Fleabag to avoid her from messing anything up: “Don’t sit on that!” or “Put them on the table. Not that table!” or “Don’t play with that!” We will probably never see Claire entirely unwound or relaxed. The closest we get to seeing Claire entirely vulnerable is when she gets that hilarious haircut and has Fleabag come to her rescue.
In other moments and episodes, Clifford also delivers on a dramatic front. Any time Claire tells Fleabag “Thank you” we know she truly means it, and it feels like every time she shows her appreciation she’s trying to make up for not being there for her sister in the past. In her nominated episode, Claire tells Fleabag, “We’re not friends–we are sisters. Get your own friends.” Even when Claire and Fleabag allow themselves to get close to one another, Claire pushes her away. As much as she can enjoy time in her sister’s company, she’s afraid of losing complete control.
Clifford plays Claire with such intelligence and confidence that she is a perfect balance to Fleabag’s mess. She may look like she’s guiding the ship of her life, but inside that ship is hilariously close to crashing.