BBC Three’s newest comedy Fleabag is a sharp-witted, gloriously non-PG exploration of a young woman’s struggle to come to terms with loss. Her attempts to juggle this alongside her dysfunctional relationships and the general challenges of being a 20-something-year old make for a very relatable comedy. Having started life on stage at the Edinburgh Fringe, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s self-starring TV adaptation of Fleabag has just concluded its sixth and final episode.
Fleabag (we never learn her real name) makes her TV debut with refreshing defiance. Armed with a vibrator and her brutal honesty, she combats the stereotypical view that it is only the minds of testosterone-riddled teenage boys which are preoccupied with sex. Many of her punch-lines slip into the nether regions, and there is more than one aside to the camera which consists purely of the words “fucked me up the ass” accompanied by an impish smile. Yet, the statement which Fleabag makes about sex is a mature and important one. By exploring it in all of its unglamorous forms and juxtaposing this against her submissive and “very sexually frustrated” sister Claire, Fleabag normalises the idea that women can take ownership of their sex lives and should do so completely unapologetically.
A recent Guardian article focused on how headstrong, foul-mouthed women, such as Fleabag, are storming our screens, creating a ‘rage revolution’. It suggested that this angry alternative to the demure form which women conventionally play on TV “shouldn’t feel revolutionary, but it does”. As an audience, we are far too rarely compelled to consider the emotions of a female character as an entity in themselves, rather than secondary to those of a male protagonist.
Yet, Waller-Bridges refuses to let us off lightly. In a BBC interview she highlighted the importance of Fleabag’s relationship with the audience; “how she tries to manipulate, amuse and shock them, moment to moment, until she eventually bares her soul”. With the tone of episodes fluctuating as dramatically as Fleabag’s emotions, moments of hilarity stand shoulder to shoulder with moments in which you wish you could bite back the laugh, snort, or whatever noise just came out of your mouth, before the next one-liner (probably involving anal sex) yanks you back to the land of the living.
It’s not necessarily something I would brand a ‘rage revolution’, as it doesn’t take much to see past the overtones of anger and discover the pain concealed beneath. I would argue that the revolutionary element comes from the way in which Fleabag is written, which lays a claim on the complex emotional scope which belongs to any independent woman, even when these emotions are too tangled to be understood.
Fleabag’s success lies in how relatable the main character is and how familiar it feels to see a family which embodies the episode. Fleabag confides in us: “I fuck everything… Either everyone feels like this a little bit or I’m completely fucking alone”. By this point we’ve seen her laugh, cry, take pictures of her vag, wank over Obama and finally confront what she’s been running away from. Now, here is a plea to the audience to be honest with ourselves and with each other, as Fleabag steps up and does the same.
Six episodes are a deceptively small amount for a comedy which packs such a punch. If you haven’t seen it already, get yourself to BBC Three, think twice about inviting your mum to sit with you and get watching.