Fleabag: Episode 1

BBC Three’s move from TV to online was a risky one, and the implications of that move were something that I found myself debating during this new comedy that’s part Miranda, part Sex and the City. Fleabag is about a young woman (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) living and working alone in London whilst trying to make ends meet. It does make you laugh (and does so in a unique way), but, for me, something about it was missing.

In the first episode, the series’ protagonist talks directly to the viewers in a similar way to the soliloquys of Miranda Hart in Miranda. She holds nothing back as she guides us through her sexual encounters, her financial struggles, and her rocky relationship with her family. The voyeuristic nature of the series makes us feel slightly uncomfortable even in its funniest moments like, for instance, when she is caught masturbating to a President Obama speech or when she turns to the camera in flagrante to describe her partner’s sexual technique. It is unapologetically dark which, at times, leaves the viewers feeling a bit awkward, especially when she reveals the darkly comic circumstances of her best friend’s death.

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One of the good things about Fleabag is the way in which the protagonist successfully breaks the fourth wall. All the TV greats do it: Miranda Hart, Frank Underwood, Deadpool, the list goes on. It privileges a single narrative perspective and allows the viewer to gain a vantage point through which to experience the story. This technique works really well in Fleabag and gives us the opportunity, for all her faults, to empathise with the main character.

Olivia Colman is great in this series and it’s been fun to see her return to comedy this year with appearances in other black comedies like Flowers. I can say without hesitation that I far prefer her performances in shows like this as opposed to dramas like Broadchurch or The Night Manager. In Fleabag, she plays the ‘evil stepmother’; a new age weirdo who spends her time painting abstract self-portraits and casually belittling her step-daughter. It’s a funny performance to match Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s equally humorous character.

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Whether or not Fleabag misses the mark is for you to decide. I can appreciate what it’s trying to do as a series, but it isn’t by any means laugh-out-loud comedy. But perhaps that’s the point. The main focus is on the characters and their mannerisms, as is the case with most British comedy. I’m just not sure that Fleabag measures up to the standard we’re used to. Fleabag continues next Sunday (28/08/16) at 10pm on BBC Two, or the entire series is available to stream on BBC iPlayer.