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Fleabag - TV Series Review

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by Marisa Quinn-Haisu (subscribe)
My name is Marisa. I am a fiction writer, a blogger, and a freelance journalist.
Published October 1st 2020
Phoebe Waller-Bridge delivers an amazing performance

"I have a horrible feeling I am a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can't even call herself a feminist."

Fleabag discusses her flaws, "Fleabag"

Fleabag is a British comedy drama series created and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge which ran for two seasons from 21 July 2016 to 8 April 2019. The show revolves around a woman, nicknamed Fleabag, living in London who has a habit of dating arseholes, hates her stepmother, runs a failing business, and uses black humour as a coping mechanism to help her deal with the aftermath of a traumatic event. Fleabag received widespread critical acclaim and has been called "clever and viciously funny" and "a near-perfect work of art" by critics.

Waller-Bridge based the show off a one-woman show she first performed in 2013. What makes Fleabag stand out is how well written it is. The protagonist, Fleabag, frequently breaks the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience to deliver exposition, internal monologues and to give a running commentary about her life. Fleabag is introduced as a sexually active, but angry and confused young woman, who uses sex as a coping mechanism as a way to give herself power and control over a life she feels is constantly unravelling.

Fleabag is a very flawed, but likeable character, who sometimes does selfish and morally questionable things. She is also a very relatable character who struggles with grief, guilt, shame, sadness and insecurity. I enjoyed Fleabag immensely. After I finished watching season two, I immediately started over again with the first episode of season one, just so I could relive it all over again. There is so much to like about this show, so much to unpack, where should I begin? This article will contain spoilers.

Fleabag constantly breaks the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience

Fleabag is the type of character who is a bit hard to like at first. When we are first introduced to her, she is angry and has a self-destructive streak when it comes to the relationships in her life. As the show progresses, we learn that Fleabag is in the throes of grief, over the deaths of her mother and best friend Boo. She makes bad decisions and deliberately dates arseholes because she is trying to self-sabotage her own chance at happiness. I've heard the argument that Fleabag is not a sympathetic character, but I disagree. I see a woman who is flawed and has a lot of emotional issues, but wants to be better. She knows she has made mistakes and that her life is messy, but that is what makes her such a lovable, relatable heroine.

Fleabag with her best friend Boo in their guinea pig themed café

The relationship that Fleabag has with her best friend Boo (played by Jenny Rainsford) is one of the most special and bittersweet on the show. Boo and Fleabag had a close bond that plays out in a series of flashbacks. Boo was one of the most important people in Fleabag's life. She made her feel loved, funny, smart and strong. Fleabag and Boo were so close, they even opened a guinea pig themed café together, which became their passion project. Boo loved guinea pigs, which started when Fleabag surprised her with one as a gift one day, despite not being sure that it would be something that Boo would even like. Boo called her guinea pig Hilary and loved it so much, it became a symbol for the love the two women shared for each other. After Fleabag's mother died, she told Boo that she did not know what to do with all of the love that she had for her. Boo replies that she will take her love and keep it safe. After Boo disappears from her life, Fleabag continues to care for Hilary and tries her best to keep their café afloat, as a way of paying tribute to her friend. The character of Boo was inspired by Waller-Bridge's real-life best friend and the plot of season one was built around her fear of how she would cope if she ever lost her.

Fleabag has a very close bond with her sister Claire

The relationship that Fleabag has with her sister Claire (played by Sian Clifford) really grew on me. Claire is married to Martin, an aggressive alcoholic, and lives with her stepson Jake, who has an inappropriate obsession with her. Claire is Fleabag's polar opposite. She is serious, sometimes cold and distant, lashes out with anger, struggles with trust, has moments of emotional distress, and is more successful and richer than her sister. Despite their differences, the two sisters are close, and share a mutual dislike of their godmother. Throughout the series, there are moments when Claire pushes away and even resents Fleabag, but the two of them always end up reconnecting. I loved how Fleabag was always there for Claire, no matter how cold or mean she acted towards her, and always had faith that her sister would choose her over her rotten husband. My favourite moment in their relationship is in the final episode of season two when Claire tells her sister how much she means to her.

"The only person I'd run through an airport for is you"

Claire tells Fleabag how much she means to her, "Fleabag"

It was such a sweet moment of vulnerability for Claire and showed how far the relationship between the two sisters had grown and matured from resentment to acceptance.

Fleabag has a dysfunctional family life

Fleabag is a show about deeply flawed characters struggling to navigate their messy and complicated lives. A lot of the characters on the show have something likeable about them, except for Fleabag's godmother and her brother-in-law Martin, who are two of the cruellest characters on the show. Olivia Coleman is wonderfully horrible as Fleabag's godmother. Godmother is an artist who was chosen by Fleabag's parents to be the godmother of Fleabag and Claire when they were children.

Outwardly, Godmother presents herself as a sweet and kind person, who cares deeply for Fleabag and her sister Claire. But beneath the surface, she is a passive-aggressive, narcissistic and arrogant person, who delights in being cruel to Fleabag and exerting power over her and her sister. After Fleabag's mother died, Godmother moved in with Fleabag's father and began a sexual relationship with him, and eventually married him. Godmother is the sort of person who has a habit of making situations about themselves and pretending to care about others. To give an example of how horrible she is, this is what she said at a memorial dinner for Fleabag's mother.

"This is a sad day. A sad, sad day...I'll get the champagne."

Godmother goes out of her way to be cruel, "Fleabag"

Fleabag tries to be polite to her godmother, but struggles with feelings of resentment towards her for stepping in and trying to replace her mother so quickly after her death. I found myself really rooting for Fleabag to not let her godmother crush her spirit.

Fleabag TV series review
Fleabag shares a personal moment with a vulnerable person

One of the most surprising relationships I ended up liking in the show was between Fleabag and a bank manager (played by Hugh Dennis). Fleabag meets the bank manager in episode one of season one when she goes to him to try and secure a business loan to save her failing café. The bank manager is eager to try and help to support her business because they haven't had much opportunity to support women in business ever since their bank branch got embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal. Fleabag takes advantage of the situation and tries to flirt with the manager to secure her loan. This causes an argument to break out between them. The manager tells her to leave the office and calls her a slut as she leaves the room.

A few episodes later, Fleabag meets the bank manager again, while visiting a silent retreat for women with her sister. Fleabag discovers the bank manager is at the same resort attending a workshop for men who want to learn how to deal with their anger and respect women. The bank manager notices fleabag and remembers her from her interview with him. He sits down with her and shares a really vulnerable side of himself with her. He talks about how he is estranged from his wife due to him getting in trouble at his work because of a sexual harassment scandal. In a really touching scene, he tells Fleabag about what he misses most about life at home, and the simple things he wishes he could do for his wife again.

"They keep asking me, "What do you want from this workshop? "What do you want?" I'm not telling them what I want... I want to move back home... I want to hug my wife... Protect my children, protect my daughter. I want to move on. I want to apologise... To everyone... Want to go to the theatre... I want to take clean cups out of the dishwasher and put them in the cupboard at home...and the next morning, I want to watch my wife drink from them. And I want to make her feel good. I want to make her orgasm again... And again."

The bank manager talks about wanting to reconnect with his wife, "Fleabag"

After this episode, Fleabag and the manager become friends. He even puts on an apron and helps serve customers in her café one day and later offers to let her have another interview with him for her bank loan. I loved the friendship that developed between these two flawed and lonely individuals and how they helped each other out in moments when they felt vulnerable and needed a friend.

After dating a lot of arseholes, Fleabag falls in love and forms a close friendship with a priest.

The best part of Fleabag was her relationship with a Catholic priest who she meets in season two. Fleabag meets the priest (played by Andrew Scott) at a family dinner in the first episode of season two. Her godmother and her father have gotten engaged and invite the family out to dinner to meet the priest who has agreed to perform their wedding. The priest is a young, charismatic man who has a blunt personality and swears, jokes, and likes a drink. He wins over much of the family, who find his antics amusing. Fleabag later remarks to her sister that she thinks the priest is hot and she agrees. After the family dinner, Fleabag goes and visits the priest at his church, who gives her his number if she ever wants someone to talk too. Finding herself irresistibly drawn towards him, she takes him up on his offer and later visits his house, where the two laugh over drinks and begin to strike up a friendship.

Fleabag visits the Priest at his church

The Priest is one of the most likeable characters on Fleabag. Andrew Scott plays him with a childlike, excitable energy, that is just infectious. When he talks about his love of God and being a priest, he bounces on the balls of his feet like a child and shouts in excitement.

"Why would you believe in something awful, when you could believe in something wonderful?"

The Priest talks about religion to Fleabag, "Fleabag"

He also has a fear of foxes which is the cutest thing ever and playfully teases Fleabag about being an atheist and dares her to read the Bible. After Fleabag does read the Bible and comes back to him with questions about it, the two of them engage in a debate about religion.

Fleabag reads the Bible to impress the Priest

After seeing Fleabag hook up with a long line of terrible men, it was so nice to see her building a real friendship with the Priest based on love and respect. There is a lot of sexual tension between Fleabag and the Priest. He acknowledges the flirty nature of their relationship and tells her, upfront, that as a Catholic priest he cannot have sex or a relationship with her. He offers to be her friend, which Fleabag accepts. He can tell that Fleabag is craving a human connection and is in pain and tries to get her to open up to him and trust him.

"I'm not being churchy, I'm trying to get to know you."

The Priest tries to get Fleabag better, "Fleabag"

Fleabag does not understand why the Priest would ever give up sex and intimacy, two things that she craves. The Priest tries to explain that he is capable of love and wants to give it to people, but as a Father, not as a lover. Fleabag's attraction to the Priest is not just physical, it is emotional as well. She is desperately craving unconditional love and someone who will support and guide her through life. The Priest senses her pain and encourages Fleabag to enter a confessional box and tell him her sins. In a rare emotional moment for Fleabag, she breaks down entirely and tearfully opens up to him about her life, her relationship with her family, and her fears and anxieties. The Priest doesn't judge or shame her for what she tells him. Her truthfulness raises the sexual tension between them and makes him love her more. This throws the Priest into a crisis, who feels a strong attraction to Fleabag, but worries that if he gives in to temptation and becomes her lover his life as a priest would be ruined.

Fleabag's relationship with the Priest has been called the emotional heart of the show

The best thing I liked about Fleabag's relationship with the Priest was how he noticed whenever she broke the fourth wall to talk directly to the audience. This was a big deal because it spoke about the close connection that the two of them had. No one else in Fleabag's life ever paid her enough attention to notice when she turned to face the camera to address the audience. It was one of the little things that made me really like the Priest's character and the connection he shared with Fleabag.

Fleabag is available to stream in Australia on Amazon Prime.
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Why? Fleabag is a British black comedy series set in London about a woman struggling to navigate life as an adult in the aftermath of a terrible trauma.
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