Sidesplitting and heartbreaking in the same moment, Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag is surely the comedy of the year.
I love black comedy. It’s all the rage right now – think Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, Stella – all with an understated brilliance to make you shift in your seat uncomfortably while you chuckle. Fleabag, created by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, takes this feeling and turns up to eleven, as you laugh riotously with tears of devastation pouring down your cheeks.
You may not have heard of Fleabag, or Waller-Bridge, and for that (in part) you can blame the BBC’s decision to move BBC Three online. There has been some great content on the online platform, but it ends up hidden unless you do some serious digging, or catch it airing on BBC Two weeks after it was first meant to appear. I’m here to introduce you to Fleabag, and beg you to watch this absolute gem – which is possibly the best thing I’ve seen all year.
‘Fleabag’ (Waller-Bridge) is your oh-so-typical twenty-something antiheroine, drifting through life pretending everything is fine when it really, really isn’t. She flitters between a serious relationship with a clingy boyfriend she can’t seem to shake (Hugh Skinner), and a casual fling with a man who’s only known as ‘Arsehole Guy’ (Ben Aldridge), named aptly, for his – ahem – particular sexual interest in Fleabag. She runs a failing London cafe, has a higher achieving but equally unhappy big sister (Sian Clifford), and her father (Bill Paterson) has married their villainous Godmother (Olivia Colman – yes, that one) following the death of their mother. It’s Cinderella, meets Miranda, meets a very bad day at the counsellor’s office.
Just like Miranda, Fleabag addresses the camera, uttering those brilliant witticisms on life that we all know to be true but keep to ourselves. But where in Miranda, you are the heroine’s best friend, in Fleabag you are her confidant, the person that the dark voice in her head is speaking to. As the comedy gets blacker and blacker, you want to scream back. Between laughing about disappearing hamsters, silent retreats, and thieving priceless art from your godmother-cum-stepmother, Fleabag listens to the haunting voicemail of her dead best friend, Boo (Jenny Rainsford), who’s probably the only nice character in the whole thing. And she’s dead before it even starts.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is surely a rising star unlike one we’ve seen for a long time, having created, written and starred in this gem. As for Olivia Colman, I’ve never hated a national treasure more. Godmother is deliciously vile to the very core. The men are also disgusting, mere shadows compared to the feminist icons Waller-Bridge creates. Despite this, it’s probably a darkly accurate account of men in relationships, from the sexually-obsessed Arsehole Guy (in more than one way, because he’s a complete Arsehole) to the commitment-freak Harry.
There’s a dark side to speaking the things everything thinks and doesn’t say, no matter how funny they are. At one point, a desperate Fleabag wails: “Either everyone feels like this a little bit and they’re just not talking about it, or I’m completely fucking alone. Which isn’t a fucking joke.” It’s dark, dark stuff, but also relatable. Fleabag is a story about loneliness, depression and grief, and you should consume every moment of it right now.
Fleabag‘s six episode first series can be found on BBC Three Online, and BBC iPlayer. It has also been picked up as an Amazon Original, to be found on Amazon Prime.