When it was originally on: 2016-2019
Original network: BBC Three (UK) or Amazon Prime (US)
Where you can stream it now: Amazon
Had I seen it before: Yes, I’ve seen both seasons in their entirety.
What IMDb says: A comedy series adapted from the award-winning play about a young woman trying to cope with life in London whilst coming to terms with a recent tragedy.
Why I picked it: Fleabag is our reigning Emmy winner in the comedy category, and helped turn Phoebe Waller-Bridge into one of the hottest names in tv/movie writing. That alone is enough reason to include it on The List. But in addition to that, I also know from a prior viewing that there’s really no other show on television that feels like Fleabag. It’s certainly not a comedy in the most traditional sense of the word, at least by American standards. It doesn’t resemble any other British comedy I’ve seen either, although I will admit my knowledge of them is more limited. At times, Fleabag feels too dark to call itself a comedy, but it also doesn’t fall into the sort of half-hour drama territory of Transparent. It should be fun to figure out what the pilot does to nail down this distinctive blend of genres.
What I liked: I love the opening of the pilot. Fleabag relies heavily on fourth wall breaks, kind of like a comedic House of Cards. But it starts off with an extended fourth wall break that immediately sets the tone for what you’re watching. It’s as though they’re telling you to check all your expectations of half-hour comedies at the door, which works.
While usually I don’t like fourth wall breaks and voiceover, I will say that Fleabag makes it work. This is in part because Waller-Bridge writes her incredibly interesting copy, and another reason is that Fleabag has trouble forming emotional intimacy with the other characters in her life. The idea that Fleabag is willing to share her innermost thoughts with an audience of strangers but not her friends and family makes total sense for who this character is supposed to be.
The show also does a great job of simultaneously making you sympathize with Fleabag while also showing you that she’s not a very good person. We get moments of her being judgmental towards a guy with bad teeth despite the fact that he seems very earnest and sweet. We see her steal a statue from her stepmother. We get moments of her being rude to her sister, who seems like a perfectly nice person even if her life does inspire jealousy in Fleabag. But then we also get Fleabag failing to secure a small business loan that she desperately needs. We see how cold her father can be towards her. We get the sense that sure, Fleabag can be a bit of a narcissist, but she’s trying her best to make it in hard circumstances. The charm that Waller-Bridge brings to the character certainly helps as well.
I also absolutely love the dynamic between Fleabag and her sister, Claire, which continues to be one of the show’s greatest strengths through its run. A lot of times when we talk about “good chemistry” we’re referring to romantic/sexual chemistry, but Waller-Bridge and Sian Clifford just have impeccable sister chemistry. They bicker all the time and never show too much affection towards one another, yet I never feel like it’s overly hostile. It’s the kind of “I can talk to my sister like this, but no one else can” bickering.
What I didn’t like: It wasn’t an issue this time around because it was my second viewing, but I remember the Boo flashbacks being confusing. It is revealed at the end of the episode that Boo is now dead, but when you don’t know that piece of info, there’s not really anything else setting these flashbacks apart from present day.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Fleabag is definitely one of those shows where you kind of have to consume all six episodes to really “get it” and I’m glad I’ve already done that. Knowing how season 1 ends, I think it could be incredibly fun to go back and see all the details I missed the first time around.