Phoebe Waller-Bridge is, for my money, the greatest TV writer currently working in Britain today.
The thirty-three year-old Londoner is perhaps best known internationally for her part as the creator and lead writer on the acclaimed BBC America drama/comedy/thriller series Killing Eve.
However, what I would like to talk about is another little show created by Waller-Bridge called Fleabag. Over the course of twelve episodes, Fleabag re-wrote the rule book on how to successfully create a comedy with real emotional moments. With the show now finished, it is time to look back on one of the television highlights of the decade so far.
Set in contemporary London, Fleabag follows the life of a thirty-something middle-class cafe owner referred to only as ‘Fleabag’. Following the tragic death of her best (and possibly only) friend prior to the show’s beginning, the series follows the titular character as she attempts to find a purpose to life again by filling the empty-void left by grief with sex, self-deprecation and joyful nihilism. Alongside Waller-Bridge the show is spoilt with brilliant performances from actors such as Oscar-winner Olivia Coleman, US stand up Brett Gelman and the wonderful Sian Clifford.
The first season mostly deals with the immediate aftermath of a tragic event like the loss of a best friend and Fleabag’s struggle to connect with anyone on a level other than physical. The show is known for its frequent breaking of the ‘fourth wall’. By talking directly to us, the audience is able to both emphathise more with Fleabag as a person, while simultaneously becoming frustrated with some of her decisions, creating an emotional attachment rare in television comedy. Another key aspect to the show is the dynamic between Fleabag and her family, namely her loving but distant father and her sister Claire, a women seemingly always on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
The second season, broadcast this year, saw the show take an unexpected turn, when Fleabag meets the priest due to perform her father and step-mothers wedding. Portrayed magnificently by Sherlock star Andrew Scott, the unnamed priest proves to be Fleabag’s kryptonite. He is unaffected by her sardonic, cynical nature and sees through the facade into her very soul. Season two is effectively a two-person character piece about love, faith and responsibility.
One reason the show is so loved is that the characters feel authentic as do the situations they are in. Attempts at emotional sincerity in comedy shows often come across as awkward and forced. In Fleabag however these moments are what give the comedy its power. The show proves that with the right motivations and a level of understanding situation can be improved by laughing. In the show these range from your sister getting a bad haircut to the aftermath of having a miscarriage. How these issues are portrayed and the sincerity of the performances/conversations are other reasons why the show is so well respected.
Fleabag may be over but we have not seen the last of Waller-Bridge. Not only is the brilliant Killing Eve back for a second season but it was announced in April that she was asked to co-write the script for the twenty-fifth instalment in the Bond series. As a proven writer of both action-packed dramas and comedies, no one is better suited to reinvent 007 for the twenty-first century than Waller-Bridge.
Last modified: 21st February 2020