I’m going into “Fleabag” fairly cold; I know it’s supposed to be great, I know Phoebe Waller-Bridge is supposed to be great (and she was funny in Star Wars Han Solo in a voice performance and men hate her Carrie Fishering the new James Bond), and I know she talks to the camera. And I knew about the Obama thing. But I didn’t realize it was kind of like stand-up visualized….
And I also realize if I’d been watching it in 2016 when it first streamed, I’d probably have a “Louie”-related name for this comedy sub-genre.
But “Fleabag” also occupies a fairly filthy—by, let’s say, 1990s standards—comedy space. Waller-Bridge’s narrator delights in the being a degenerate, which leads to some really funny scenes but also potentially presses some sympathy boundaries. Is there going to be a point where “Fleabag” goes too far….
I mean, I’m sure for some viewers but whatever.
I also don’t want to suggest it’s limit-testing comedy or Waller-Bridge is toying with the idea of sympathetic or reliable narrators. The episode is very much this lyrical look at a day in the narrator’s life, through her perception of the events; a stand-up joke delivered like a sonnet reading in camera aside while physically rendered in, you know, expert twenty-first century comedy detail. We don’t appreciate how much better comedy film and television have gotten in the last fifteen years, just in terms of visual possibility.
Or I don’t appreciate it enough.
So with “Fleabag,” episode one, which introduces Waller-Bridge’s narrator, her sister (Sian Clifford), her father (Bill Paterson), wicked stepmother (Olivia Colman), and blokes of various importance—there’s little portent to Tim Kirkby’s direction. But it’s excellent—the way it showcases Waller-Bridge without spotlighting; the narrative distance is exquisite, as is the show’s sense of timing. It always waits just the right amount after the punchlines.
I’m also now vaguely aware the project started as a stage monologue performance from Waller-Bridge, which makes a lot of sense, but I’m probably remaining ignorant until after I watch the show. Probably.