You’ve all seen it already.
I have arrived unfashionably late to this particular party.
I can’t help it.
I’m often late to these sorts of things.
I’m not the sort of boy who has ever been, God help me, with it.
I had watched a couple of episodes of “Fleabag” a while back and enjoyed the crude, naughty, bawdy, radical, thrills of the postmodern, 21st century anti-Carry On spills of the titular Fleabag.
It was sexy.
I don’t really like sex on film but the constant breaking of the fourth wall and the remarkably never before, or at least not very often, seen woman enjoying, or seemingly enjoying, sex and approaching the filthy business with a matter of factness I could only dream of made this…different.
Writer, and star, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a strikingly beautiful and beautifully striking, confident, funny, warm, achingly cool, stylish and inspiring performer. She is simultaneously the sort of person you wish you were regardless of your gender and the sort of person you wish was your best friend. I’m not talking about Fleabag. I think something of Waller-Bridge seeps through and it is the “real” person that connects with the audience, not the character.
There are moments when the awfulness of what Fleabag says leaves you speechless…before the laughter starts, possibly despite yourself. “Should I be laughing at that?” you may ask yourself before you realise that the fact you are already laughing provides the only authentic answer to that question.
As the series unfolds like the sheets on a bed the morning after a particularly sordid night before we see that sex is not something that Fleabag is in control of…it is in control of her, it is her means of coping with other emotions, emotions that she is too afraid to confront. The sorts of things we are all too afraid to confront. The mistakes, the betrayals, the hurts we have caused, the lies we have told to others (and to ourselves), the discord we have sown along life’s path.
Does this all sound a bit heavy?
That is what sets “Fleabag” apart from other “comedies”.
Waller-Bridge understands that life is filled with quiet desperation…a quiet desperation who’s roar can be deafening. Most of us are unfulfilled. It doesn’t matter if, like Fleabag, your background is one of subtle, maybe not so subtle, privilege, or if, like me, your life is one relatively lacking in privilege. Relatively. Nor does it matter what is, or is not, between your legs or in your DNA. No, what matters…what connects us…is the ugliness that can exist inside of us and around us.
From such dark material Waller-Bridge brings belly laughs, finds the silly, makes social comments, crafts hideous characters without redeeming qualities (hello to Olivia Colman’s “Godmother) and gorgeous characters with warmth and heart…that you really have to work to find.
Central to everything that is going on here is the quality of the writing and the perfection of the casting.
“I have a horrible feeling I am a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist.” silently screams Waller-Bridge and you cannot hear anyone other than her say it. It’s the same for every other character. Each of the performers is the person you are seeing and that means that you actually care about them…even the ones you don’t care about (hello to Olivia Colman’s “Godmother”…again).
When I got to the end of series one late last night I had to switch off the television, turn off the lights and just sit in the darkness. Tears rolling down my cheeks. I had seen so much of myself in so many of the people on the screen. I had been confronted with my own selfishness, my own weaknesses, my own depravity, my own morally bankrupt moments, my own cynicism, my own greed…but I had also seen the good in me; the tenderness, the desire to love, the willingness to befriend.
Now I have to prepare myself for the next chapter in the “Fleabag” story.
A little bit of me doesn’t want to watch.
Afraid it won’t be as good.
Afraid by what it might reveal about me…and about you.
Afraid but intrigued too.
Here I go…