This streaming recommendation comes from The Bee secondarily, after a nod from Amazon’s algorithm.
Our personal streaming account’s “recommended for you” section last week yielded “Fleabag,” an Amazon original series (by way of BBC3) created by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, an English playwright and actress best known here for playing a barrister on “Broadchurch.”
Waller-Bridge brings blitheness, rebelliousness and hints of deep sadness to this series’ title character, a flippant, sexually adventurous young London woman she first played on stage. (Waller-Bridge and her character share the “Fleabag” nickname, presumably drawn from “Phoebe”).
Once alerted to the month-old series’ existence, we promptly watched Season 1’s six 25-minute-long episodes. The algorithm must have picked up on our love for sexually frank London-set comedies from our two-seasons-in-three-days binge of Amazon’s “Catastrophe”, and our penchant for unreliable narrators from our recent movie-theater outing to see “The Girl on the Train” (never underestimate the long reach of the online retailer’s cookies).
Fleabag fronts like she’s the audience’s pal, breaking the fourth wall to address the camera so often that she makes Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards” seem camera-unaware. She’s usually telling a fraction of the story.
“Fleabag” at first unfolds entirely from her myopic, self-serving perspective as she beds hunks and homely guys alike and toys with her sensitive boyfriend, Harry (a rightfully rattled-looking Hugh Skinner). Fleabag continually dumps Harry and then reunites with him when she cannot find anyone else to fill her bed. To be fair, Harry makes the break-ups tempting by exiting so dramatically, not just removing his things from Fleabag’s flat, but cleaning it. Sometimes they split because Fleabag is too lazy to dust.
Nor does she muster much enthusiasm for the cafe she owns. She microwaves store-bought risotto and charges outrageous prices, shrugging, “It’s London.”
Her callousness, though funny in spurts, cannot sustain a six-episode series. As it progresses, “Fleabag” maintains its anti-heroine’s close relationship to the camera but also wisely opens up the narrative to reveal others’ insights into her behavior.
Fleabag’s married, accomplished sister (Sian Clifford, a study in hemmed-in frustration), it turns out, is not as self-absorbed as Fleabag has portrayed her. The sister is holding off on a promotion and a move to Finland, she eventually blurts within Fleabag’s earshot, so as not to abandon her mess of a sibling.
The source of Fleabag’s spiritual messiness is not revealed fully until late in the season. In the meantime, Waller-Bridge deftly uses asides to the camera to tip us off that Fleabag’s life is not all Bridget Jones-style wacky fun. Eyes that first register “can you believe this?” conspiratorial mirth show flashes of that scourge of the hedonist-about-London: shame.
Streaming on Amazon