‘FLEABAG’ is one of those shows that I had been hearing about for a long time without really taking enough of an interest to actually pursue it. I mean, it was British, it had an awful title – I had to google what a ‘fleabag’ is and even then it didn’t really make complete sense – and it was also less flashy and, therefore, was regarded as less interesting than all of the cool, flashy shows that I was watching. However, I changed my mind about ‘Fleabag’ when I found out that its creator and lead actress, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is actually the creator of a show I really enjoyed, ‘Killing Eve.’ This persuaded me to give ‘Fleabag’ a chance and now that I have finished both seasons, I can honestly say that it is one of the best shows I have ever seen. It is a funny, intelligent, modern example of great television, with a protagonist that will seem all too familiar to the millennials who watch the show.
Fleabag is a young woman, living in London, running a small café, and constantly trying to find true love. She is a bit of a narcissist, in the way that millennials are described as narcissists. Initially, she puts her own feelings and needs above others’. Her journey towards not needing attention is something that manifests itself even in the form of the show, which is one of the things that makes it truly unique. Fleabag constantly breaks the fourth wall, addressing the viewers with direct sentences, questions, commentary, winks, smirks, and eye-rolls. The technique here reinforces her selfishness and need for attention by pointing out that even the people (the other characters) around her are not enough and she must also break the fourth wall and seek out the audience for constant validation. The character’s growth is tracked when we observe how at the beginning of the show she preens and makes a show of herself to the audience, but in the final season, she starts to resist the camera and viewers, by flicking us away or by walking away, attempting to keep her private and personal moments to herself, without feeling the need to seek validation or attention. If Fleabag represents millennials, whose identity is rooted in the façade of social media, then the character’s decision to no longer perform for us, the audience, is indicative of her growth and shows that by the finale, her character arch has been completed.
Of course, none of those technical elements really matter, unless you really want them to. First and foremost, ‘Fleabag’ is a comedy and it can be enjoyed on the merits of its genre alone. The dating life of the protagonist – though there’s actually more casual sex than dating, which is fine because millennials do find casual sex easier and more rewarding than the complexities of dating, anyway – are filled with humour, of the kind that is often very specific to today in its irreverence and disregard for societal expectations. One of Fleabag’s boyfriends, for example, breaks up with her because of her sexual attraction to Barack Obama.
In another instance, Fleabag seduces a ‘hot priest’ and they make out in a church. Another example, which highlights both the irreverence and the relatability can be found in a scene where Fleabag confesses that she worries about whether she would still be a feminist if she had larger breasts, which is exactly the kind of conversation (one navigating the allure of contradictory ideologies, such as gender norms and feminist advocacy) that one would expect from the dialogue of millennials.
The cast is stacked with talent. Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the lead role is simply astounding, and it is truly difficult to decide whether she is better as a writer or as an actress, simply because she manages to handle both parts so well. Sian Clifford, as Claire, Fleabag’s uptight, wealthier sister, is perfectly cast against Waller-Bridge, as their sisterly connection, complete with fights and moments of deep reconciliation, are profound and help Fleabag to establish what truly matters in her life. Oscar-winner, Olivia Colman, as Fleabag and Claire’s godmother/stepmother is laugh-out-loud good as a vain and pretentious artist who constantly puts down and challenges Fleabag. If there was an award for ‘Best Thrower of Shade’ this year, Colman’s character would win it, hands down.
‘Fleabag’ might not be enjoyed by everyone, but, undoubtedly, it is the perfect show for millennials. Its depiction of the difficulties of forming and maintaining relationships, its casual treatment of sex and religion, its presentation of a narcissistic and initially unlikable woman as the lead, and its inclusion of sub-themes like gender roles and mental illness, and the way it highlights the tragicomedy of life, might be off-putting to some. However, for millennials, it should be the perfect show, because its themes are the same ones that constitute a great part of our identity.