Fleabag was originally an award winning play about a young woman coping with tragedy while trying to live a normal life in London. Though Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also plays the title character, adapted Fleabag into a half hour television comedy, the pilot moves like a play. So while the episode introduces us to our main players–Fleabag (Waller-Bridge), her sister Claire (Sian Clifford), her best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), her on-again-off-again boyfriend Harry (Hugh Skinner), her dad (Bill Paterson) and her step mom (Olivia Colman)–it also introduces us to its style.
The episode begins with Fleabag breaking the fourth wall and talking us through a hook-up. We all know the 2 AM “u up?” text. In real life and on TV, it’s becoming overplayed. But Fleabag does something different. She stands at the front door talking us through how she got ready but will pretend she forgot he was even coming over. You think her talking to the camera will end with another character entering the scene but instead she glances at the camera like we are in on this with her and tells us what’s happening right before it does. This was jarring at first and I didn’t like it. I couldn’t fully get into the show, her constant narration felt like a block. But once she was on the bus and met the guy with the teeth, something clicked and my opinion did a 180.
There’s a lot of fun in morally bankrupt people. They can be the best to write, to watch, to party with. But they are two dimensional and they are common. Fleabag is somewhat a mess. Her business is failing, her and her boyfriend have broken up…again. She’s steals. She’s late. She’s awkward, mean, and neurotic. Though I began to like the show, laughing out loud a few times, I wasn’t impressed with this character. Most show ideas, made and unmade, are along the lines of “young 20/30-something is an aimless disaster navigating through the big city.” The main characters are usually sarcastic, ironic, sardonic, and jaded. (Damn, TV has gotten depressing. Bring back Parks and Rec.) Fleabag fits the bill.
However, in the last moments of the episode, the final third of her character dimension is revealed. She tells the cabby driving her home how her best friend and business partner accidentally killed herself. Boo (Rainsford) just wanted to get injured enough to be put in the hospital so she could turn away her cheating boyfriend but gravely misjudged how fast bikes go. I think without her friend dying, Fleabag would still be somewhat of a shithead for sure. But the sadness she feels and then visibly shoves aside creates space for this character to be more than a scatterbrained 20-something drinking and shagging and cursing dawn till dusk.
The pilot episode of Fleabag, though it takes a few minutes, is awesome. The choice to break the fourth wall is a risk, but it works out well. It gives the show a theatrical vibe and draws the viewer in. It made me genuinely laugh out loud multiple times, which is, of course, the mark of any good comedy. I look forward to watching the five remaining episodes.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Fleabag is currently streaming on Amazon.