Fleabag (2019)

Fleabag (BBC One)

In Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge created such a forceful human car crash, the impact flung her all the way across the Atlantic (writing BBC America’s smash hit Killing Eve) and even into space (playing a robot in Star Wars).

Personally, I was a bit bemused by all the fuss; compared to the more relatable Michaela Coel in Chewing Gum, for example, I struggled to see why I should care about the first-world problems of a self-sabotaging, narcissistic London posho.

But either I was wrong, or Waller-Bridge has raised her game, because this week’s second series opener – in which Fleabag and her dysfunctional family gathered to toast/mourn her father’s engagement to Olivia Colman’s wicked stepmother – was a masterclass in the art of comic pain.

For Fleabag, the occasion was made more bearable by the arrival into her life of Andrew Scott as a ‘cool, sweary priest’. And through a plastered-on smile, she even managed to be civil to her estranged sister Claire (Sian Gifford), and reptilian brother-in-law Martin (Brett Gelman). Well, at least until it all descended into physical violence, leaving Fleabag, Martin and an over-attentive waitress nursing bloody noses.

The script didn’t pull its punches in other ways, either – Claire miscarrying in the toilets felt like risky territory, even for a comedy with a ‘-drama’ suffix – but it did prove the catalyst for a sibling rapprochement that pushed things as close to ‘feelgood’ as Fleabag probably gets.

Newly crowned national treasure Colman clearly relishes playing against type as an appallingly pass-agg smiling assassin, while Bill Paterson’s Dad gave a hilarious, treading-on-eggshells speech in which he heroically avoided saying anything at all.

The show is light on quotable one-liners, preferring to find the comedy, and the drama, in the interplay between characters – though Waller-Bridge still gives it plenty of saucy side-eye to the camera, like the anti-matter Miranda.

At one point, Claire was asked what it was like working in Finland. ‘Cold, beautiful and dark,’ she replied. It’s tempting to say she could equally have been describing her sister. But it’s when the ice starts to melt that Fleabag gets really interesting.


TV extra:

 

James May’s Big Trouble in Model Britain (BBC Four)

James May’s latest boys-and-their-toys doc is a bit different to his standard wheeze, as Hornby – legendary maker of model railways, as well as fellow former childhood faves Airfix and Scalextric – has come seriously unstuck in recent years. So alongside all the hardcore OO gauge action, there’s the very grown-up story (albeit one May’s wry commentary milks for laughs) of the company’s efforts to get things – oh go on then – back on track.

 

Derry Girls (Channel 4)

Last year’s surprise hit comedy about teenagers in 90s Northern Ireland kicked off its second run in typically boisterous form, as the girls of Our Lady Immaculate College attempted to build bridges (and the rest…) with a bunch of protestant boys over the course of an outdoor pursuits weekend. How did that work out? Let’s just say it’s a blessing the Good Friday Agreement wasn’t in the hands of this lot.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, March 7, 2019

(c) Waitrose Weekend