Fleabag is the best tale about the worst people
Originally a play of the same name, Fleabag is a quintessentially British tale of repression, posh people behaving badly, rampant sex, and an adorable guinea pig. It’s also packed with an all-star cast and the sort of show that’ll make you regularly laugh out loud while simultaneously feeling guilty about it. It’s almost as perfect as its characters are imperfect.
First up there’s the titular star and occasional narrator, Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose star is skyrocketing thanks to her turn in Killing Eve).
As the first episode kicks off, we’re introduced to the ridiculously good-looking current object of her physical affections (played by Ben Aldridge), who shows up in the credits as simply ‘arsehole guy’.
Which should clue you in as to what’s in store: namely hilarity, smut and truly awful humans.
Consistently selfish, self-destructive, and sex-obsessed, Fleabag’s superpower appears to be turning those nearest and dearest to her against her. She’s the owner of an unsuccessful guinea-pig themed London cafe that stays afloat chiefly by charging its rare patrons arbitrary (and astronomical) sums for sandwiches. Her recent life has been filled with various tragedies, but rather than soften her, they’ve made her an even worse version of an already horrid self.
Fleabag’s London is a brutal and unforgiving one where it feels like a character could crouch down to tie their shoelaces on an Underground platform, get trampled in a freak stampede, and the Londoners involved would collectively cluck and tut at having a stranger’s blood on their shoes. It’s the perfect setting for a perfectly dreadful person, yet with her witty asides to camera and brilliant facial expressions, Waller-Bridge still manages to elicit sympathy.
It’s the cunning and practicality in her awfulness that makes Fleabag so enchanting. In one memorable scene, she considers refraining from breaking up with her boyfriend because he tends to drown his sorrows in housework and her apartment could do with a clean. In another, she indulges in a bout of Obama-inspired onanism while ostensibly brushing up on current affairs.
Then there’s Fleabag’s exquisitely uptight sister Claire (Sian Clifford) and Claire’s abhorrent, alcoholic, American husband Martin (Brett Gelman), who bring their own brand of dreadful to the table.
Like Arrested Development, Withnail & I and Shameless, Fleabag revels in making the majority of its cast wholly unlikeable. And it does so to brilliant effect. Oscar winner Olivia Colman is utterly mesmerising as Fleabag’s godmother/her father’s lover (yep, it’s complicated).
What fourth wall?
Aside from being so British that if it were a person and you bumped into it, it would apologise to you, Fleabag’s nationality means it only offers up six 30-minute episodes per season. Thankfully, though, there will soon be two whole seasons to get through. Thank heavens, too, for Fleabag’s business partner Boo (Jenny Rainsford), who’s the show’s lone redeeming character.
But thanks most of all for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who deserves to become a household name on the back of what’s one of the most refreshing – and dark – comedies we’ve ever had the uncomfortable pleasure of laugh-crying through.