SERIES REVIEW: Fleabag (2016; 2019)

Fleabag was created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

This is a complete series review of the BBC Three and Amazon Studios black comedy series Fleabag, which aired its first season in 2016 and its second and final season in 2019. Both seasons consisted of six episodes with each episode having a runtime of approximately thirty minutes. A ‘series review’ is a new review concept on the blog that is inspired by my franchise reviews, which feature short reviews of every film in a franchise within a single article. Below you’ll find my reviews of each season as well as a full season grade for seasons one and two.


Fleabag – Season One – 2016


The first season of Fleabag is a marvelous little thing. Complete of merely six half-an-hour episodes, this black comedy series from the prodigiously gifted British comedienne Phoebe Waller-Bridge is about an unnamed character — known only by the title of the show — who runs a guinea-pig themed cafe. This Fleabag character, who is also played by the series’ creator, is increasingly unlikable and often characterized by her promiscuity, but she is also undeniably, devilishly fun and thus tough not to love. She breaks the fourth wall with ease and delightful glee. She has that mischievous humor of Deadpool paired with top-notch contemporary situational humor.

Fleabag is House of Cards, that is if House of Cards was a show about a depressed young woman who is desperately looking for companionship. The writing is whip-smart and rip-roaring. At the same time, the show is also moody, depressing, and awfully sad. It tells a story about guilt, loss, and an unsteady identity. Waller-Bridge is delightful here with playful glances and line-deliveries that lend her asides a roguish feel.

“Oh it’s a sad day. Sad, sad day. I’ll get the champagne.” – Olivia Colman in Fleabag, season one, episode five.

The first season also features Olivia Colman in a prominent role as Fleabag’s evil stepmother. Olivia Colman might be her home country’s most gifted comedienne and she has deservedly won numerous awards for both comedy and drama. She has, quite frankly, become one of my favorite actresses as she is always scene-stealing no matter if her role is big or small. In Fleabag, Colman really is cold and cruel but she has so much fun with her character. Seeing her obsess over the good looks of Fleabag’s one-night-stand boyfriend or deliver these knowingly cruel lines of dialogue is both glorious and staggering.

A surprisingly tragic series about grief disguised as a wickedly fun show about a carefree young woman enjoying her time being single, the first season of Fleabag is quite spectacular. It made me both incredibly emotional and had me laughing just as hard. I’ll add that I was impressed by the supporting cast of characters and the very different suitors Fleabag had. They all had a distinct personality to them and were all, bar none, laugh out loud funny in moments. I think, in moments, the music was a little bit heavy-handed (particularly in the season finale), but through it all the writing was clever and the fourth-wall breaks were, without fail, perfectly executed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and directors Tim Kirkby and Harry Bradbeer. Energetic, devastating, and sharp, the first season of Fleabag is an outstanding showpiece from Waller-Bridge, even if I do have some minor issues with it.

A-


Fleabag – Season Two – 2019


“This is a love story,” thusly begins the phenomenal masterwork of the second season of Fleabag, while the eponymous character is wiping the blood off her nose in the bathroom of some British restaurant. It is a season of television that knocked me on my ass in its first episode, which, to my mind, is the series’ best. The first episode of the final season of Fleabag is a bottle episode set inside of a restaurant 371 days after the events of the first season. Her step-mother still loathes her, her sister and brother-in-law are still upset with her, and she is seated next to a devilishly good-looking but mildly disheveled man who we’ll later now as, well, the ‘Hot Priest’ (played by the impeccable Andrew Scott, who you may know from BBC’s Sherlock).

That season premiere is wickedly fast-paced and features intelligent, layered dialogue that both sets up this new mysterious character and deepens and continues the narrative threads from the first season, without ever forgetting about the episode’s running gags like the returning waitress. The season premiere is energetic, explosive, and vicious, and I, honestly, think it is the series’ finest hour — or half-an-hour, you know what I mean. This episode encapsulates all the greatest strengths of the series, including the flirtatious relationship between Fleabag and the Hot Priest, which the second season is all about. At least at face value, because, in reality, the second season isn’t so much a love story as it is a story about loneliness, temptation, and figuring out your sense of direction when made aimless by grief.

“Oh, God, I fancy a priest.” – Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag, season two, episode two.

Whereas the first season of Fleabag featured frequent flashbacks to the eponymous character’s relationship with Boo, the second and final season, even though it does also feature Boo in prominent flashbacks, zeroes in on her mother’s funeral and the hole that loss left in the title character. In the second season, Fleabag enters into therapy and studies holy scripture, but, don’t you worry, the show’s trademark naughtiness is still very much present. As the season went forward, the third episode featured the most laugh-out-loud moment in the series for me, when the title character couldn’t resist the urge to lift a prize.

This season, specifically in the fourth episode of the final season, also features the most challenging dramatic performance from Phoebe Waller-Bridge yet. The series’ creator really hits all the right notes in a confession-scene, right before the series gives us the single most sexy and sinful scene of the series, which is underscored perfectly by a choir-like score that makes the scene feel even more profane and indecent than it already did.

But, more than anything else, the greatest success this season is the connection between the eponymous character and the Hot Priest. In the first season, she dated these oddball characters, but the Hot Priest is, in spite of his vague name, the most fully-formed character not in Fleabag’s family. Andrew Scott’s character is devilishly good-looking and alluringly and refreshingly nonclerical. Waller-Bridge and Scott are fantastic together, and the series does a fantastic job at making their connection feel special with how the show breaks the fourth wall this season.

In a scene that reminded me a little bit of Mr. Robot, this season Fleabag refers to the fourth wall — or, ‘us’ — as her friend or friends. Furthermore, the Hot Priest notices her asides and calls her out on ‘going away’ and being somewhere else in the middle of her conversations. This is fascinating and its effect even more so. As the series came to an end, the characters in the show challenged this aspect of the eponymous character’s personality and this gave Waller-Bridge the perfect way to end the show without really giving us anything definitive. Fleabag ended the best way it could.

As we say farewell to Fleabag — the character and the show — we say goodbye to a show that, with its second season, has cemented its status as a true masterwork of a gifted young actress and writer in Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Fleabag was a transcendent tragicomical masterpiece with an outstanding mix of tones and an incredible supporting cast. I highly recommend it.

A+

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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