Television can get a little scary. It’s easy to get lost in the abyss of programming that is streaming, primetime, VOD, cable, syndication, etc. But Unbinged is here to help, with regular reports on what’s worth watching and what’s a waste.
Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the patron saint of streaming services at the moment. Borrowing the crown from Amazon Prime’s other hit show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the actress/writer/new “It” girl racked up six Primetime Emmys at the most recent kudos outing, including awards for best comedy series, best lead actress and writing.
Of course, all the hubbub surrounding the half-hour laffer begs the question: Is it worth it? Should you take the time to binge away, especially since chances for a third season look a bit murky at best right now? The answer is yes. Absolutely yes. Jesus. What the hell is wrong with you?
The world of Fleabag is contained in two incredibly sharp six-episode seasons. Based on her one-woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Waller-Bridge stars as the title character, an unreliable narrator who breaks the fourth wall by constantly speaking to the audience. In fact, she regards the at-home folks as her close, personal friends to her therapist and is acutely aware that we depend on her for information. Oddly, this is perhaps the least kooky aspect of Fleabag’s life.
Driven almost entirely by her id and appearing to completely lack a filter, Waller-Bridge’s portrayal of a philandering thirtysomething in London is both whimsical and polarizing as Fleabag wanders from one self-made horrible situation to the next. Talking directly to the camera and bewitching viewers with her charisma and slick wit, Fleabag wants audiences to believe that she is living her best life, but this is obviously far from the truth. If anything, her life is a dumpster fire that happens to take place within a slightly larger dumpster fire, which is also surrounded by fire. A matryoshka doll of fiery failure, if you will.
However, if this was the central premise of the show, we would be stuck with a modern day Sex and the City, a show whose “charm” melted away over the years to reveal an egotistical mean streak a mile wide. (Fun fact: If I ever need of a 12-hour filibuster to stall a final vote, I have a back pocket rant on Carrie and her crew’s detrimental views on sexuality, fashion and shitty mixed drinks.)
Instead, Fleabag revels in her awful decisions. She is aware that she is making the lives of others more difficult and feels genuine sorrow for this, but just can’t seem to help herself. She suffers, but moves forward with a quip and a wink, nudging the audience to follow her along.
Fleabag’s life is consumed with fights with her sister, money problems from her guinea pig-themed cafe, dealing with the accidental death of her best friend, and hot priests. But she remains cheerful and upbeat as she allows her vagina to make most of her decisions. From getting dumped at a public event to looking accidentally gorgeous at her mother’s funeral, every aspect of her life is examined for our amusement. And it is highly amusing.
Waller-Bridge’s astute observations about the situations she gets herself into, her gift for physical comedy, and her impeccable delivery add to the charm of the show and make her character pardonable. It also gets audiences to root for her even when she is wrong. That’s the hat trick of Fleabag — it makes the audience champion a character they might not agree with, stand with, or completely understand.
Our flawed heroine is like a schoolgirl with a slam book who lets us in on the joke, or an adorable fascist leader in a pencil skirt, but significantly less evil (sometimes). The Emmys weren’t wrong on this one. Go to Amazon and watch it now if you haven’t yet. It is the new standard to which all other comedies will be compared.
Big Mouth (Netflix)
After Fleabag, continue the shameless sex talk-driven viewing with a binge of Netflix’s Big Mouth. The animated potty-mouth tweens are back for a third season with more problems, more inappropriate nudity, more horny hormone monsters and more comedy that carefully tiptoes between clever satire and bad taste. Voiced by top-tier comedic talent including Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Jason Mantzoukas, Jenny Slate, Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele and Fred Armisen, Big Mouth is an expletive-laden look at the savagery of puberty.
In its third season, the libidinous animated kiddos continue to tackle everyday issues concerning their developing sexuality — dick pics, incest, talking vaginas, a Harry Potter-themed vibrator and Florida all come into play as it explores the very real problems that plague society growing up.
The joy of Big Mouth stems from its absurdity, which is anchored firmly in truths we can all understand and remember. Middle school is fucking hell. Like the Stanford Prison Experiment, this life stage is complex but instead of playing with people’s notions of perceived power, it focuses on little pre-teen assholes and their interactions and distractions. Big Mouth brings the awkward comedy of an awkward age to light and attacks it with vigor, exposing the hormonal trails that lead to adulthood and the weird feelings and thoughts we had to get there. It’s not for tweens, but rather adults looking back on their tweens, a comedy that works by making us laugh and cringe at our past and present selves.