Launching as an Amazon Original, though also a British series that already posted to online streaming service BBC Three, all six episodes of FLEABAG come to American audiences on September 16th. Set in present-day London, it’s the story of a young woman who isn’t handling the death of her best friend very well. Told in semi-non-linear fashion, it’s about grief, feminism, millennials, sex, and so much more.
FLEABAG is created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Crashing, The Iron lady), who also stars as the titular character. When we meet her, she’s a mess but we don’t know why. She treats her sensitive boyfriend, Harry (Hugh Skinner, W1A), and her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford, Paddy), poorly, using them and then pushing them away, and not really seeming to take their feelings into account at all. Her father (Bill Paterson, Outlander) has it even worse, with Fleabag causing friction in his relationship with her godmother (Olivia Colman, Broadchurch). Fleabag herself will sleep with just about anyone and seems to barely get by day by day.
But then, we learn about Boo (Jenny Rainsford, Prometheus), her guinea pig-obsessed best friend and business partner who perished. Did Boo kill herself, or was it an accident? This is in doubt. Since Boo is the only character we ever see happy (in a number of interspersed flashbacks), it makes the situation even more puzzling.
The fact that Fleabag lost Boo does not excuse her behavior, at least not all of it. Fleabag is rude, self-centered, and semi-psychopathic. And yet, viewers will want to cut her some slack because of Boo’s death. Everyone deals with grief in different ways, and maybe Fleabag is acting out from deep emotional pain. After all, she’d have no one at all if she were always so awful, right? Maybe…
Waller-Bridge gives a stunning performance, one that constantly keeps you guessing about whether you should like the protagonist or not. Her snide comments and looks at the camera, a la House of Cards, help us get inside her head and earn some sympathy. And yet, they also betray that she may be just as horrible as she outwardly acts.
I watched two episodes to try to figure out the fascinating dichotomy. I did not manage to, though I’ll be watching the additional four installments to see if they can shed any more light. Instead of answers, we get a complex woman that feels completely real, both a product of her time and a reaction against it. While it’s hard to like Fleabag too much, she begs you to try to peer into her soul, and it’s difficult to look away. She is one of the most interesting, enigmatic character studies I’ve seen in a long time, which is probably why I liked the show so much.
If you are casually pulling up a scene or skimming through FLEABAG, you are likely to wonder why in the world you’d ever want to watch such a thing, which is what my wife asked me ten minutes into episode two (she missed the pilot). But if you’re willing to devote the time and attention this dramedy deserves, it seems to me there is much richness to be mined, and certainly a ton of originality, which is lacking from most other shows.
I don’t know if there’s any hope of FLEABAG coming out of the funk she’s in, or if this is her natural personality and always has been. I hope it takes her awhile to figure herself out, though, because this is something I’d like to watch for a few years, not just one afternoon.
FLEABAG will premiere on Amazon Prime September 16th.