A few years ago, I made the bold claim that Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her show Fleabag would change television. I wasn’t entirely wrong. While the first series of Fleabag (Brits call seasons “series”) on Amazon Prime failed to create a groundswell, Hollywood did take notice. Waller-Bridge landed plum roles in Goodbye Christopher Robin and a sweet Star Wars franchise role as L3-37 in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Additionally, she wrote and produced the highly acclaimed Killing Eve. Garnering herself an Emmy nod for writing and helping Sandra Oh win Golden Globe and SAG Awards for her role as the lead Eve Polastri.
Given the trajectory of her career, I feared that Fleabag may end up a one-off. Luckily, I was wrong. Waller-Bridge is currently staging Fleabag as a one woman show at the SoHo Playhouse in New York City through April 14 and the second series of the show is currently airing on the BBC. While I haven’t seen the stage show, I have seen the first five episodes of series two.
The second season of Fleabag finds Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) adulting . . . in a Fleabag kind of way. After the bedlam of the first series, it’s much welcomed. But Fleabag being Fleabag, calamity is always right around the corner.
The primary conceit of the show, breaking the fourth wall, remains intact. It’s used just as deftly and allows us to share in Fleabag’s cheeky asides and internal thoughts.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing in Fleabag remains as excellent and incisive as you would expect. But what heightens the show is the acting. In series two, the stellar crew returns, including Sian Clifford as her sister Claire, Brett Gelman as her morally deficient brother-in-law Martin and Academy Award Winner Olivia Coleman as Fleabag’s hyper-sexualized artist stepmother, known as Godmother. Interesting to note that only four of the Fleabag characters actually are given names, the rest are named for who they are.
However, the standout in this second series is Andrew Scott as “The Priest”. A character who is both confounding and wildly atypical . . . and nothing short of hysterically brilliant! Scott’s priest is a normal man whose job just happens to be a Catholic priest. It’s a job he loves and takes seriously.
But The Priest does have some serious struggles with the piety that comes with the job.
In one scene, when The Priest is asked about his family. He says he doesn’t talk to them. When asked why he doesn’t speak to one of his brothers, he frankly states “He’s a pedophile.” After some awkward silence, he follows with “Oh believe me, I see the irony in the situation.” It’s a great way to sneak in and address that particular issue in a humorous way.
At the end of episode three, The Priest calls Fleabag out and asks her where she goes when she turns her head to break the fourth wall to chat with us viewers, her friends. She’s gobsmacked. It’s a well-played moment. There are hints of this in previous episodes. But could it be that The Priest is the only one, besides us, who sees her for who she is?
Could love be in the cards for Fleabag?
Now I would have thought that The Priest would be an impediment to this second series of Fleabag finding distribution here in the United States. In America, guns, blood and violence can be tolerated. Swearing, sex or religious satire? Not so much. We seem to view religious leaders, specifically Catholic priests, as either chaste or deviant. But thanks to streaming services, this second series of Fleabag has a home on Amazon Prime Video.
As written and portrayed, Fleabags Priest is neither chaste nor deviant. Fleabag humorously normalizes the role of a priest. The Priest here could just as easily be the manager of an office in Slough that sells office paper. Of course, The Priest is absurdly over the top but it’s not without bite. That’s what Waller-Bridge does very well.
I’m still not convinced that Hollywood recognizes the talent of Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
However, I do.
And you should.
Celebrate the return of Fleabag and if you haven’t seen it, you should.