In a flashback scene in the first episode of Fleabag, the title character (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and her best friend Boo (Jenny Rainsford) improvise a drunken song about their lives. “Another lunch break, another abortion, another piece of cake, another cigarette,” the pair intone. “And we’re happy, so happy, to be modern womennnnnn.”
If Fleabag, a six-part BBC3 series newly released on Amazon, were just another raunchy, provocative comedy about a sexually active woman luxuriating in her personal and professional failures, it would still be one of the more distinctive entries in the genre, just because Waller-Bridge is so ingeniously filthy. (“It’s surprisingly bony,” she says of one encounter in the café she owns. “Like having sex with a protractor.”) But what really sets the show apart is that it’s essentially a tragedy. Fleabag, it emerges in the first episode, is bereaved; she’s also consumed with self-loathing, uniquely self-destructive, and deeply lonely. In a scene immediately following the flashback to the modern-women song, she bursts into her father’s house at 2 a.m. “I have a horrible feeling that I’m a greedy, perverted, selfish, apathetic, cynical, depraved, morally bankrupt woman who can’t even call herself a feminist,” she blurts out.
“Well, er ...” he replies. “You get all that from your mother.”
Waller-Bridge, a classically trained British actress, based Fleabag on a one-woman show she wrote and performed in 2013 at the Edinburgh Fringe. The show is constructed around repeated asides to the audience that sketch in salient details about Fleabag’s life: Her business is failing; her sister is high-powered, successful, gorgeous, and “probably anorexic”; her father responded to her mother’s death by buying both his daughters tickets to feminist lectures and moving in with their godmother, who’s not evil, Fleabag notes, “just a cunt.”