If you’re like me, you’ve been hearing about Fleabag nonstop, and even though the two-season (12 total episodes) show has concluded, I bet we’re going to keep hearing about it for a long time. That’s because it is just as awesome as everyone is saying, from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s acting, to the cinematography, to the commentary on modern women. Here’s the breakdown:
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt; Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts; Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
Fleabag is about a woman (nameless but known as Fleabag) who is grieving the loss of her best friend. Sardonic and without a filter, Fleabag is witty and brash, but it masks her pain. Surrounding her are her meaningless one-night-stands and a family ill-equipped to support her through her pain.
Her closest relationship is with her sister Claire, but while her high-strung sister knows her, she has her own problems preventing her from always being there for Fleabag when she needs it. I really loved the sister relationship. It felt really real to see Fleabag and Claire trying to reach out to each other, and failing (sometimes awkwardly, often hilariously). And yet they always try again, because despite their differences, the depth of their relationship was something worth saving.
There are a host of other women characters, and the show passes for representation of women, and for LGBT+ rep, though not for people of color.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
The charm of Fleabag comes not just from the depictions of womanhood, but also from Fleabag’s knowing commentary and self-awareness. Through the show, this comes from Fleabag breaking the fourth wall to comment directly to the audience. Every part of this is done well: the humor, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s acting as she shifts from the scene to give us a wink or an eyeroll…There are a lot of artistic reasons for breaking the fourth wall, and Fleabag chooses to use the conceit liberally and to great effect. The best episodes were the first episodes of Season 1 and Season 2, which set the snappy tone and Fleabag’s character in refreshing style.
But in Fleabag’s world, this breaking of the fourth wall is actually a negative. It’s clear in the first season, when Fleabag narrates to the audience while she’s having sex, that she’s not present in her own life. During flashbacks, or in the rare moments when Fleabag is allowed to be vulnerable or fully present, she never looks to the camera. That theme is driven home in Season 2, when Fleabag meets someone who “gets” her– and this person calls her out when she disassociates with a glance or comment to the camera.
During the final scene, Fleabag is heartbroken, but she leaves the camera behind, promising better things in the future as she learns to live in the present.
‘Margaret Atwood meets Inglourious Basterds’: Read our review of ‘Bitch Planet’.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
What I liked about this show is the way actual feminist problems and questions are woven in throughout a story that is not about feminism. Actually, all of my favorite pieces of media strike this same balance. It’s possible to have written a show about a modern British woman, moving through one-night-stands as a poor way to grieve for her friend. But the intermittent conversations about feminist topics give the show a reality that clearly resonated with audiences (“I don’t want to be the Best Woman in Business…it’s a subsection of success.” “Hair is everything. We wish it wasn’t but it is.”). Not to acknowledge these moments would’ve rung false, especially to women viewers.
I also liked that that commentaries on gender roles and double standards did not try to forgive anything. When Fleabag and her sister attend a women’s retreat, which they spend cleaning in complete silence, Fleabag crosses the lawn to find a men’s retreat, which involves men screaming obscenities at blow-up dolls to learn to manage their problems with women. Both retreats cleverly point out how we treat women and men, and what we think they should be like. But it’s not an over-the-top gender commentary, and the episode’s focus is more about how a silent retreat is the absolute last thing Fleabag needs to heal. But the juxtaposition is perfect, and just one example of how Fleabag’s struggles are put against a very realistic societal backdrop.
Though Fleabag has concluded, creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge is writing for Killing Eve and the next Bond film, so at least we know she’s not going anywhere. But I am really looking forward to the next project that puts her at the center. With her acting skills and overall artistic eye, I know she’ll make something raw, memorable, and hilarious.
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