As we near the end of the year, I’ve been reflecting on the best TV series I've seen in 2020. This year, I’ve made an effort to seek out new content wherever possible (not a hard task – we’re inundated with it) rather than just starting my fourth re-watch of Mad Men or Gilmore Girls. However, while I’ve managed to see a lot, I always seem to return to an old favourite of mine: Fleabag.
Whenever I recommend Fleabag to someone, I do so almost forcefully, because it is that good. Created by and starring the formidable Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the series tells the story of a protagonist known only as ‘Fleabag’, as she grapples with the death of her best friend, endures her splintered family, and struggles with the tribulations of running her own guinea-pig-themed café in London. In just twelve twenty-minute episodes across two seasons, the show follows Fleabag and a myriad of other equally damaged supporting characters (with a cast that includes Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott), most of whom spend their time avoiding or mishandling life’s challenges.
While the entire cast does a stellar job of exemplifying humanity’s worst impulses, it’s Waller-Bridge who manages to elicit that magic combination of love, disgust, hatred, and empathy from the audience, all within the same scene. Her self-loathing is so ferocious, and her suppressed sorrow is so tangible, that when it does all unexpectedly bubble to the surface, it cuts right through the comedy to momentarily break your heart.
Fleabag undergoes a subtle transformation across the series: she begins as a woman lost, plagued by grief (which she channels into a masochistic sex life) and reliant on her dry wit and self-deprecating humour to get by. In her own words, Fleabag is ‘a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt’ woman. She’s also entirely enchanting and relatable, as she worries that ‘I wouldn’t be such a feminist if I had bigger tits’ and admits that, like most of us, she just wants someone to tell her what to do with her life.
By the end of the second season, Fleabag experiences something like catharsis as she learns to be open to the possibility of loving other people. The final result is a compelling portrayal of how to connect and how to hope while also accepting that sadness and grief are inevitable, even important. Fleabag serves as a reminder to value life as a sum of experiences and emotions, some hilarious, some wonderful, and some tragic, to find reassurance in the knowledge that whatever you’re doing is okay. You will be okay.