TV Review: ‘Fleabag’

Fleabag is a British comedy series adapted from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s highly acclaimed Edinburgh play. The hysterically crude and cynical show is both written and starred by Phoebe.

Phoebe plays the role of ‘Fleabag,’ a nickname she goes by perhaps due to the character’s well-known promiscuity (the term is quite self-explanatory, it refers to something that is literally flea-ridden). Fleabag is a modern day Londoner who struggles with common insecurities like body image, relationships, money, but mostly, whom to sleep with next. While at a feminist lecture her father forces her to attend annually, she shoots her hand up at the question, “How many of you here would exchange five years of your youth for a perfect body?” Upon realizing her and her sister are the only ones with their hands raised, she slowly lowers her arm and whispers, “We are terrible feminists.” But in fact, some may perceive her as a terrific feminist: entirely embracing of her sexual needs and always one step ahead of everybody else, especially men.

Our protagonist breaks the fourth wall on and off and narrates her personal thoughts to the watcher all the meanwhile living out her fictitious life—she lives in a constant interplay of narrating and acting. Sure she’s not the first to have directed her own audience on screen, but she does so seamlessly with her multi-expressive facial expressions and a tone of incredible nonchalance. She is convincingly the best fourth-wall-breaker of all.

Like every other character, there are reasons behind why she’s the asshole that she is, which are mainly due to her ambivalent and unaffectionate family members, and the ridiculous death of her best friend ‘Boo’ (played by Jenny Rainsford). Fleabag laughs maniacally as she describes her best friend’s fatal accident to her cab driver. Boo had ran into a bike lane in hopes of causing herself a minor injury to revenge her ex-boyfriend by worrying him. Instead, two cyclists run into her, causing a fatal traffic accident for all three. Fleabag’s laughter in retelling the story proves her emotional numbness and an intentional detachment from reality.

It’s evident that she no longer has anybody to rely on. The occasional flashbacks of her and Boo are the only rare moments when Fleabag actually seems happy. She manipulates her boyfriend, timing their breakup for when her apartment needs a good cleaning (her odd boyfriend scrubs the apartment every time before moving out “for good”). When she gets bored and runs out of men to sleep with, she seeks after him again for the hundredth time, knowing he’ll come running back to her. Everyone around Fleabag is loaded with so much animosity that when she meets a man who shows genuine interest in her without sexual intentions, she yells at him, “What the hell is wrong with you!” and storms away from her date. Hostility and meaningless intentions have been normalized, as it typically is in our modern society, and Fleabag explores just one of the many lives that is the product of our modern culture. It illustrates the gut-wrenching reality to being an adult when you take away all the sex and alcohol.

Read our roundtable interview with Phoebe here.


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