Fleabag Is The “Flawed Female” Comedy You Need In Your Life

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Pictured: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (center) takes her angst to the Underground.
No doubt you have many plans this weekend. Cancel them. The BBC Three hit Fleabag makes its U.S. premiere on Amazon today, and if you can make it to Monday without binge-watching the lot, you clearly have more discipline than we do.
Discipline is not a strong suit for "Fleabag," the series' titular character played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also wrote the show as well as the 2013 London play on which it's based. Fleabag (a nickname inspired by Waller-Bridge's own childhood; her character on the show is never referred to by name) has little shame or self-control. She masturbates despite her boyfriend's pleas to stop and focus on their own sex. She hooks up with men seemingly out of boredom. She intentionally pushes people's buttons. When her stepmother (Olivia Colman) refers to a valuable objet d'art in her studio, you can practically see the veins pulsating in Fleabag's forehead until she can finally steal it. All the while, she flashes raised eyebrows and cringing faces at the camera, making viewers feel like they've landed the most hilarious, vicious, and slightly effed-up best friend imaginable.
The leading lady is flawed, funny, and, like so many female characters on TV, still trying to figure it all out. That's probably why Fleabag has so often been compared to Girls, even though it's only one girl, who breaks the fourth wall to address her only real companion: the audience. Her best friend is out of the picture, her mother has died, her sister and father are distant, and the men in her life are footnotes. (Also: Just because you have casual sex and talk about your period, doesn't mean you'd hang out with Hannah Horvath.)
Refinery29 spoke to Waller-Bridge over the phone about her character's motives, period sex, and the inevitable Girls comparisons. Here's what she had to say for herself and her hysterical series.
How do you feel about the show being received as the British answer to Girls?
"I think on one level, obviously in terms of the quality of the work, it’s amazing to be compared to something like Girls. I think it’s also kind of indicative of how small the pool of female-led comedy is, that kind of talks about sex and friendships and family and stuff. I think it’s a quick comparison to make because [Fleabag] is dealing with similar issues, but I think their stories and characters are very, very different.”
It reminded me a little bit more of Jenny Slate in Obvious Child.
"There’s that kind of caustic hardness to that character as well, yeah.”

I think she wants somebody to see right through her and go: Stop it. Stop all this. Sit down. It’s okay. Talk.

Do you think that there’s a Fleabag inside of every person, or is she just kind of in a league of her own in terms of these personality quirks?
"I sort of hope that there is, as much as I fear that there is one in everybody. A lot of the time when people were talking to me about [the show], they were saying they can relate to it. It owes to the thinking that there is a little Fleabag in all of us, and I think there really is. It’s sometimes the person who’s like really trying hard to be normal, but you just don’t feel normal. You just really wish you had a little camera to make a side comment to.”
I want to ask about the scene when she's buying maxi pads at the store and she’s then having sex throughout the whole episode. I was thinking, Yeah, she’s having sex on her period, that’s amazing. It’s not an issue.
“I’m so glad you noticed that because I did want to let everyone see it. In the edit we were like, Do you think we need to mention [her period]? It was like, The girls will know, the girls will know it's fine.”
I also loved that she masturbates to Obama. Would she ever masturbate to Trump? Who’s she more likely to masturbate to, Trump or Hillary?
“Oh my gosh, I think she’d probably do a mash-up of the two [laughs].”
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Pictured: Hugh Skinner plays Fleabag's sensitive, on-off boyfriend, Harry.
Fleabag torpedoes so many relationships. Does she give a shit?
"I think she gives a massive shit."
What does she want out of life at this point?
“That’s a really good question, because the whole way through the development [of the show], that was the question that kept coming up: What does she want, what does she want? I think one of the first phases of writing something is deciding what your character wants. Actually, it was a really instinctual thing for me because on one level, she desperately wants to connect with her family, and she wants to be able to face her grief and talk about it openly and kind of just heal a bit I think. But the sort of pressure to be on top of everything and make everything seem like it's okay is kind of overwhelming for her.
"I think a part of her defense mechanism is to act like everything’s fine and everything can be a joke, but really I think she wants somebody to see right through her and go, ‘Stop it. Stop all this, sit down, it’s okay. Talk.’ Just like, you don’t have to do all the fireworks all the time of behaving like you don’t care." The series ends with a really powerful twist. Will there be a second season to pick up the story?
"We’re talking about it. I think it’s sort of like in the middle of the decision-making process now. Originally it was a play, and that whole story was the story of the play, and I sort of came into that thinking it was one story. Actually with that, how it kind of wraps up at the end, there is a kind of feeling of completion to the story. I don’t know whether it would be braver to keep writing it or braver to leave it alone.
"I’m deciding at the moment, because I know there’s so much more stuff that I’d love to tackle and talk about and joke about with that character. Her honesty is an easy way into so many ludicrous, horrendous situations that I’d love to write about. But I wouldn’t want to wring her dry, so to speak. So I don’t know. Deciding, deciding. What do you think?”
Fleabag makes its Amazon debut Friday, September 16.

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