The Rundown: ‘Fleabag’ Is As Good As All Your Cool Friends Say It Is

Editor-at-Large
05.24.19

Amazon

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items will vary, as will the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — Turns out all those smart and cool people you know had a point

There are a lot of television shows out there and I can’t watch all of them. That’s what I said. That was the best reason I had for not watching Fleabag, the BBC/Amazon comedy created by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, even though all of my friends and colleagues with good taste raved about the first season and started raving again last week when season two came out. I’m a busy man, after all. I have things to do. I’d just have to live with having this as a cultural blind spot.

But then this week I broke down and decided to check out the first episode. And then I watched another one. And another one. And the next thing I knew, I had watched both seasons in under 24 hours. That’s not some sort of mighty feat, considering each season consists of six 30-minute episodes and each of those episodes breeze by, but it was still not how I expected to spend six of those 24 hours. I couldn’t help it. Turns out all of those people were very correct. Fleabag rules.

Quick background: Waller-Bridge plays a character nicknamed Fleabag, although we never really hear people use her name. She runs a tiny cafe that she started with her best friend, a woman named Boo who recently passed away. She’s smart and fun and funny and kind of a mess, drowning her pain in alcohol and casual sex. Her family is a trip, too. Her wildly successful sister is stuck in a miserable marriage to a world-class creepo (played by Brett Gelman, who commits to a degree that is almost inspirational), her widowed father is now dating an awful, passive-aggressive, condescending new woman (played by Olivia Colman, who also revels in being terrible in the role), and things are just all-around not great.

I’m not selling the show very well so far. I know that. What I just described sounds like any other awkward comedy you can find on any other cable channel or streaming service. That’s not what makes Fleabag so good, though. What makes Fleabag so good is the execution. Each episode is a perfect little story that feels lived-in and personal and then the next thing you know, blammo, everything has tied together and you’re blown away. There are twists and reveals and sad moments and deep moments and victorious moments. It’s a heck of a ride.

It is also wildly funny. Waller-Bridge breaks the fourth wall repeatedly through the show, sometimes talking directly to the camera and sometimes stealing little glances, and she gets more laughs out of just her facial expressions than most people get out of the best jokes crafted by the best writers money can buy. It’s not a mockumentary like The Office, though. It’s more intimate than that, in part because none of the other characters are aware of it. (Well, almost none of the other characters.) She’s not so much talking to the camera as she is confiding in you, the viewer, giving little winks that reveal the character’s true feelings and motivations. Sometimes she’ll do this thing where she’ll deliver the same line twice in a row, once to the camera with one inflection and once to another character with a different one, and it never fails to kill me.

The first season is really good. The second season is really, really good. She falls in love with a priest. It’s a whole thing. I’m not going to say too much more about it because I refuse to give anything away if you haven’t seen it yet. All I’ll say is that the last five minutes are somehow heartbreaking and hilarious and triumphant and left me staring at the screen in awe for what felt like a full minute. If that doesn’t sound like a long time to you, go set a timer. Stare at a blank screen for a full minute. It’s an eternity. That’s how good of a show Fleabag is. It turned me into a catatonic weirdo. I have no higher compliment to give.

So this is your project for the long holiday weekend. Watch Fleabag if you haven’t. Maybe re-watch it if you have. It’s only six hours in total. I know you don’t have better plans because you’re reading this on a Friday afternoon in May. Do it. Join us. You’ll become an evangelist, too.

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