tv review

Fleabag Season Two Is Perfect

Photo: Steve Schofield/Amazon

Fleabag season one was a droll, observant work of British comedy that confirmed what a talent Phoebe Waller-Bridge is both in front of and behind the camera. So it’s saying a lot that Fleabag season two, the follow-up to Waller-Bridge’s initial, brutally honest portrait of a British woman on the brink, is even better than the first.

Almost everything that was good about the six episodes of Fleabag that debuted on Amazon all the way back in 2016 — before Waller-Bridge became the voice of a droid in Solo, the creator of Killing Eve, and the writer of the next James Bond movie — remains in place in these next six. The show still finds surprising, squirmy humor in the lives of depressed and dysfunctional people. Its protagonist is still an appealing mess of a person, though her judgment has improved, slightly. And Waller-Bridge continues to portray Fleabag, our screwed-up heroine, with a firecracker confidence that, when dampened by the right person, reveals a vulnerable, damaged, and loving soul underneath. Waller-Bridge also still regularly speaks directly to camera, and pulls it off more effectively than anyone else has in recent TV history, and maybe TV history altogether.

What’s different in season two, all of which was written by Waller-Bridge and directed by season-one vet Harry Bradbeer, is the way that the series calls even more attention to that shattering of the fourth wall. What might otherwise function as a fun, cheeky conceit becomes something much more meaningful when a man in Fleabag’s life starts to notice more and more that she’s mumbling things under her breath and looking over her shoulder at an unseen audience. For the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, Fleabag is being fully seen by another person.

The problem is that person is a man of the cloth. Which brings us to the most spectacular addition to Fleabag this season: the hot priest. The hot priest is spectacular because he’s played by Andrew Scott, who infuses this heavy-drinking religious man — he is given no name, he’s simply the Priest — with wit, self-effacing charm, and a warmth that gives off seductive vibes I am fairly certain would not be endorsed by the Catholic Church. Fleabag does not believe in God, but suddenly she finds herself going to church much more regularly, and you can’t blame her. If that guy is offering communion, plenty of women and men, regardless of their religious affiliations, would be happy to open their mouths and receive it.

The relationship that develops between Fleabag and the Father gives this season a strong sense of cohesion. The “will they or won’t they?” question hovers over the proceedings as soon as the priest enters the picture in the first episode, when he’s introduced as the officiant for the pending wedding between Fleabag’s father (Bill Paterson) and her godmother, the narcissistic artist portrayed by Olivia Colman. But the romantic story line serves a broader purpose by enabling the show to further explore its core themes about commitment, self-improvement, and how difficult it is to truly reveal one’s self to other human beings.

On the heels of a relatively minor indiscretion between Fleabag and Martin, her skeevy brother-in-law played by Brett Gelman, much of this season also focuses on the thawing of the chill that’s set in between Fleabag and her sister Claire (Sian Clifford) in the intervening year and change since the last season ended. The two women are, as before, scales that tip too far in opposing directions. Fleabag needs to rein herself in and stop succumbing to her worst impulses, while Claire needs to let go of the weights dragging her down (for example: her husband Martin) and figure out how to loosen her considerable tightness. Clifford does a fantastic job of conveying how wound up Clare is — her expression appears to have been set on resting bitch face since 1993 — while letting her softness occasionally seep out through the cracks.

The entire cast is great, and made greater by the arrival of Fiona Shaw and Kristin Scott Thomas in supporting roles, and they’re all served by rich, hilarious material. There’s some great physical comedy, particularly in episode three, when Fleabag scrambles to make things right after she screws up a straightforward task at a women in business awards ceremony hosted by Claire. Every episode is packed with dialogue that you can tell the actors are having a blast saying out loud. (Colman does the absolute most with the request, “I’m sorry, but if you’ve ever had a miscarriage, could you take it to the kitchen, please?”) Not a single scene or line is wasted. As messy as its protagonist might be, Fleabag season two is tidy and compact and perfect.

Waller-Bridge, who originally performed Fleabag as a stage play, is simply electric to watch as she slides back into this character she knows so well. She’s knowing and sly when confiding her innermost thoughts to us — “His beautiful neck,” she moans while staring at the hot priest’s alluring nape — and just as believably panic-stricken when she realizes those thoughts might be exposed. (“You just said, His beautiful neck,” the priest says, catching her. “No, I just said, They were already gone,” she stammers, her normally smooth rupture of the fourth wall now gone totally sideways.)

The heart of the season resides in these kinds of moments between the two of them. Waller-Bridge and Scott have such lovely chemistry that you root for them to become a couple somehow, even though that whole vow of celibacy thing seems like a pretty insurmountable obstacle. Where the first season ended on a shocking and sad note that revealed the depth of Fleabag’s guilt, the second ends on a poignant and touching one that, in its melancholy way, signals there may be some hope for the comedy’s chief sinner.

Waller-Bridge has said this is meant to be the last season of Fleabag, but has implied that she may reconsider at some point. Here’s hoping she does, because as soon as I was finished with season two, I wanted to watch it all over again.  The power of Waller-Bridge, not to mention the hot priest, compelled me.

Fleabag Season Two Is Perfect