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Guinea Pigs, Sex Addictions and Familial Trauma

Why Fleabag by Phoebe Waller-Bridge is so well loved.

At some point in 2022, I gave into the significant hype surrounding Phoebe Waller-Bridge and this weird show she had created, Fleabag. Those who have not watched the show have most likely come across at least one of the wildly popular moments from the show, such as the hot priest asking Fleabag to ‘kneel’, Fleabag’s sister sobbing over her ‘chic’ asymmetrical haircut, or maybe even one of the hundred clips of Olivia Coleman’s character or that dude from Stranger Things gently bullying our protagonist (antagonist? Both? Who knows). Suffice to say, the show is a wild hit.

It’s important to take a look at the origins of the show to understand why Fleabag is so renowned. The two-season series found its roots in a 10-minute monologue, written and performed by Waller-Bridge at a local fringe festival, which was so well-loved that, with the help of a Kickstarter, was developed into an hour-long one-person play, performed by Waller-Bridge at the Edinburgh Fringe's Underbelly in 2013.[i] Three years later it was picked up by BBC Three and from then onwards, it was a critically acclaimed hit.

Although there are only 6 episodes per season, with each being less than 30 minutes each, Waller-Bridge has managed to pack every minute with entertaining, and heartbreaking, mania. Within the first episode, the audience is immediately introduced to some of Waller-Bridge’s stylistic choices, which emphasise the natural brilliance of the show’s focus on everyday, mundane life, such as: a consistent breaking of the fourth wall by Fleabag herself, lack of non-diegetic music and a lack of laugh tracks (thank you God). While these aren’t outlandish choices to make, they work together to really tie together the authenticness of the show, and the deep intimacy the audience experiences with Fleabag.

What we quickly learn about Fleabag is that she often uses sex as a coping mechanism, something continued in every single episode. Frequently jarring and often comedic, sex scenes are displayed throughout the episodes, and when we aren’t seeing the sex, we’re hearing about it through Fleabag, who makes it evident that she values sex so much because she likes to feel wanted. Oftentimes, during these sex scenes, Fleabag breaks the fourth wall and speaks lengthily to the audience, creating this awkward, borderline cringe-worthy ambiance, which works so insanely well considering how awkward (and borderline cringe-worthy) the most intimate moments of our lives can be. This brings me on to my next point.

Over the 6 episodes, Waller-Bridge brilliantly manages to capture the natural awkwardness of day-to-day life. Whether she’s chatting to her sister, Claire, or flirting with her romantic partners, or even just reaching out to her father, Fleabag’s natural inability to have a normal, relaxed conversation is highly relatable and bloody entertaining to watch. This is a show which by no means is attempting to hide away the beautiful and disgustingly painful emotions so present in our everyday life. I think it’s one of the main reasons I love the show as much as I do.

Extending from this idea, the show also does an amazing job of exploring how fucked up relationships with friends and family can be. Every single one of Fleabag’s relationships are multifaceted, complicated. She doesn’t get along with her godmother-turned-stepmother, nor her emotionally stunted father, and to be honest she barely gets along with her sister or any of her romantic partners. The only person who understood her was her best friend, Boo, who we learn commits suicide prior to the onset of what we see on the show. Slowly we learn that it is this grief of not only losing Boo, but also the lack of a single stable relationship in her life, which causes Fleabag to act in the often transgressive way that she does.

I particularly enjoyed that we, as the audience, don’t really understand why Fleabag is the way that she is until the end of the season. From the beginning of the show Fleabag consistently breaks the fourth wall, sharing the most vulnerable and awkward parts of her life, giving us the false pretence of intimacy. But it isn’t until the very end that we see her breakdown and openly grieve the loss of every good thing she had in her life.

Even though she wasn’t doing too hot at the beginning of the season either, in the end she truly hits rock bottom. She’s about to lose her failing guinea-pig themed café (dedicated to her depressed guinea pig, Hilary), she’s been betrayed by her sister, her father has snubbed her yet again, she’s been broken up with for about the hundredth time, and she still reels over the guilt she feels about her best friend’s suicide. And yet, we don’t have a neat little resolution, we don’t get a reconciliation, we don’t really get much at all. What we get is Fleabag, sitting broken at the table of her strange café, sitting across from some bank manager she had a fight with early on in the season. Still, somehow, there is a deeply hopeful, comforting tone to that ending. Such is the brilliance of Waller-Bridge.

Fleabag is by no means a good person, but she also isn’t a bad person. Waller-Bridge’s genius in creating a character who is so deeply fucked up but also so deeply relatable will never cease to astound me.

I will leave you with one of Fleabag’s best lines: “Either everyone feels like this a little bit and they’re just not talking about it, or I am completely fucking alone.”

I give Fleabag a 10/10.

[1] Borge, Jonathan. “How ‘Fleabag’ Got Made.” Backstage, 25 June 2020,


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