3 out of 5
Created by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
covers season 1
We’re getting closer. I think we – including me – still don’t know what we’re getting closer to.
Sticking to the generations in which I’ve been a somewhat active participant: a general feeling of “safety” in the 80s for a kid, unaware of the backdrop of indie alternative rock and slacker cinema which would give birth to the Spawn comics and grunge that would shape much of our disaffected youth. We were the kids without a message – our 80s fruit loops cartoons and Goonies movies hadn’t much given us one – and on the forever ebbing and flowing tide of society’s happiness/sadness trends, this angsty Anarchy-symbol nonsense flip-flopped into squeaky clean boy bands and Christianized popstresses and, for the eyeliner kids, homogenized hardcore or Good Charlotte punk. Before the next descent into disgruntlement, digital media became the default; internet accessibility became an expectation. The game never really changes – and even the small focus I’ve summarized above has occurred in various ways before and will, certainly, again – but we were becoming a culture more aware of the rules, and thus became snarkier in our attempts to navigate around them.
Today we wake up in a world where a lot more people had a voice than used to, and this is a positive thing. However, we’re also mired in one giant pit of kneejerk responses, which can range from itchy trigger fingers to rants from keyboard warriors, and while this moves us closer to maybe… possibly… one day… breaking down the walls that separate you from me, right now we’re still rather incensed at the walls themselves and fighting for out grievances to be heard. It can be hard to hear yourself think amidst all that, and equally hard – given how much judgment we now must lump upon ourselves to be or not be a member of any given group of ideology-espousers – to understand what to do with those thoughts when you do manage to hear them.
And I think Fleabag is an attempt to deal with that. To try to remember that We Get It, We Get It, but we’re still fucking human and don’t get it at all, and all the wit and wisdom and learn-ed truths can’t change the basic human conditions.
Creator / writer / star Phoebe Waller-Bridge masks this in a typically current-Gen way via literal winks to the viewer and some wonderfully timed comedic dialogue exchanges, but her particular take on cringe comedy – the frankness of which is like an amped-up British-ized version of Lena Dunham (which makes it a lot more tolerable than the stumbly, american-ized version Dunham produces, if that’s not your bag) – stands out for the way Waller-Bridge is willing to revel in the cringeyness proudly. Its female-centric sex-positive comedy that doesn’t go out of its way to glorify or vilify but simply represents things as seen through the eyes of one particular Brit.
Which means that, at points, Fleabag is really sharp, capturing the shit-upon zeitgeist and giving it the middle finger in a way that feels very real and true. That Waller-Bridge has an entertaining delivery and slightly quirky sense of humor of course helps; Fleabag is also frequently funny. But, as I started out saying above: This is voraciously creative work that doesn’t know quite where to apply its energies. Which is part of the series’ overall point, but its mixed up with a lot of thoughts related to gender and gender roles as well, and so it’s hard to build up emotional investment from episode to episode, as Fleabag keeps playing development off in search of a greater point, or, perhaps, to delay a denoument which feels like it both betrays the play-origins of the setup as well as feeling like something of a concession to the need for things to have a conclusion. It’s not a happy ending per se, but it’s a stunted one that doesn’t quite sync up with our travels to that point.
This is also a structural remnant from Ms. Waller-Bridge’s previous series, Crashing, but I’m glad she didn’t stick to that shows more generic relationship trappings and attempted to venture out into some vagueness with Fleabag. And no, I don’t have any clearcut recommendations on how I would have done it differently.
What I do have is a good feeling: That this is the kind of clever-but-not-too-clever, honest entertainment that shows we are capable of growing in these tumultuous times. The tumult itself inevitably hampers things, and prevents Fleabag from providing any clear feelings or thoughts beyond a sense of its various moments, but that twinge we feel – that human twinge – is a real and valuable one. And I hope Phoebe Waller-Bridge hangs onto that edge in her works and really shakes our brains with her next one.