If you only know Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Killing Eve, watch this series, which gets caustic laughs from self-loathing and emotional paralysis
FLEABAG: SEASON 2 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). All six episodes streaming on Amazon Prime Video Friday (May 17). Rating: NNNNN
Okay, first of all her name’s not Fleabag. That’s ridiculous. This isn’t high fantasy, it’s just a vicious comedy about miserable Londoners.
No other character has that sort of name in fact, hardly anyone on the show has a name at all, other than Claire, the sister, and Martin, Claire’s husband. Mostly they’re called Dad, or Godmother or Sweary Priest. The first episode of the new season has a character called Needy Waitress, because… well, she is.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge calls the show Fleabag to tell us how her unnamed café proprietor sees herself: messy, dumpy, unworthy of further consideration. The character is wrong, of course, but self-loathing runs deep, and the show is about confronting that as our miserable, self-flagellating hero navigates the personal hell that is her own family, and her own heart.
After a first season that unpacked the entirely understandable reasons behind our hero’s self-destructive impulses, the second season of Fleabag – which returned to the BBC earlier this year for a second and final season that’ll be streaming on Amazon Prime Video this Friday (May 17) – delves deeper into the corrosive relationships that surround her.
Hapless Dad (Bill Paterson) is preparing to marry the despised Godmother (Olivia Colman) meanwhile, sister Claire (Sian Clifford) continues her unhealthy codependency with her loathsome husband Martin (Brett Gelman). And she’s still haunted by the memory of best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford), perhaps even more so now that their struggling café has become a success.
Further complication comes in the form of a new character, the aforementioned Sweary Priest (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott), who sees straight through her bullshit, her ironic facade and her fourth-wall-breaking to offer a romantic possibility heretofore unconsidered: that it might be possible, somehow, to be not just happy but loved.
Waller-Bridge and her remarkable supporting cast work together beautifully to craft an expertly timed comedy, pulling caustic laughs from self-loathing, emotional paralysis and the ridiculous central conflict over our hero fancying a priest. (After all, as she points out, he’s already in a fairly serious relationship.) But there’s an anguished humanity beneath almost every laugh, rooted in disappointment, sadness, loneliness or depression.
Even the all-consuming narcissism of Colman’s character becomes its own running gag, the newly minted Oscar-winner seeding notes of genuine vulnerability into Godmother’s monstrous entitlement and hostility that make her a believable human being instead of the wicked-stepmother caricature our narrator would have us see. Meanwhile, there’s some very serious stuff going on with Claire, giving Clifford the opportunity to show us a more complex side of her repressed character. (Gelman, as her husband, just turns up the volume on Martin’s oily, manipulative qualities, but it’s exactly what the show requires.)
A lot of people discovered Waller-Bridge, and Fleabag, through her work on the first season of Killing Eve, which got a lot more attention than this oddball project ever did. And I can understand why: Killing Eve is a complex, flashy, funny, marvellously performed fantasy – an ice-cream cone dusted with ecstasy.
Fleabag, though, is the proverbial cookie full of arsenic. Waller-Bridge is working with a much more vivid canvas, cutting even deeper by keeping it all so painfully real. Don’t miss this show.