‘Fleabag’ Season Two Is Flawless Television, the Best Show You’ll Watch This Year
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s droll British comedy ascends to heavenly levels of humor thanks to sharp performances, heartfelt observation, and, it must be said, a very hot priest.
There is a very hot priest in the new season of Fleabag.
It’s of great import, how very hot this priest is. It throws everything off its axis. First Fleabag herself, played by the show’s creator and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and then, in turn, you as a viewer. The hot priest changes everything, helping Fleabag not necessarily find God, but, perhaps more significantly, find herself.
And for Fleabag, the comedy series which launches its second season on Amazon Friday, the hot priest is crucial to honing the show’s creative voice: As great as season one was, season two is just about perfect. You could even call it watching it a religious experience.
In 2016, Phoebe Waller-Bridge adapted her one-woman show into a BBC Three series that premiered in America on Amazon. It was sensational and weird, a bitter window into the mascara-streaked life of a woman that, because of a canny narrative device in which Waller-Bridge would break the fourth wall mid-scene and sometimes even mid-line to address the camera, boasted an unsettling, addictive amount of nuance and intimacy.
There was something extremely British about it—droll and kind of tragic, but still endearing—but also extremely resonant. Waller-Bridge was so observant about not just what it is to be a woman-on-the-brink, but how that feels. Every episode was equal parts a laugh riot and a breathtaking gut-punch. Season two, somehow, is even better. There’s a very hot priest.
It picks up a little over a year after the events of Fleabag season one. The current state of affairs for our heroine is summed up breathlessly in a therapy session, which she attends after her father gifts her a voucher for her birthday—a demeaning, yet sweet gesture.
Why would her father think she needs the session, asks her therapist, played in a standing ovation-worthy guest turn by Killing Eve’s Fiona Shaw. “I think because my mother died and he can’t talk about it, and my sister and I didn’t speak for a year because she thinks I tried to sleep with her husband, and because I’ve spent most of my adult life using sex to try to deflect from the screaming void inside of my heart,” she says, turning to camera—“I’m good at this!”—and then clarifying to her therapist, “Though I don’t do that anymore.”
The premiere throws us right back into the trenches with the scarred protagonist, as she faces the most violent kind of battle she encounters in her life: a family dinner.
Dad (Bill Patterson) is now engaged to be married to Godmother, played by Olivia Colman, who is having a ball playing an uncouth narcissist. Fleabag’s sister, Claire (Sian Clifford), whom Fleabag hasn’t seen since the notorious kiss with her husband, is there as well as the husband, Martin (Brett Gelman), upping the ante as TV’s biggest bastard. As if that wasn’t all awkward and dramatic enough, the very hot priest is there, too, as he’s set to perform the wedding.
Andrew Scott’s The Priest is an immediate lifeline for Fleabag, a warm, yet raucous presence who goes glass-for-glass with her on the wine refills and eventually aids in her getaway when the dinner goes to operatic levels of shit. He is—have we mentioned it yet?—very hot, but, in a priestly way, compassionate and concerned. As they get closer, he is the only person to ever notice that Fleabag’s mind goes elsewhere during intense moments, dramatized as those asides to the camera. He’s the first person to fully see her as human.
We know where is this going. So does Fleabag: “Oh my god, I fancy a priest.”
The series does such a great job at crafting a crop of truly loathsome characters, like Martin or Godmother, who play in relief to her more traditionally destructive behaviors, challenging our perception of what really makes a “bad person”—and whether “bad” may really just be human.
The fun in Fleabag is Fleabag herself. She’s someone who’s both scandalized and delighted by the naughty, crass behavior of the people in her world, in turn both offended by and encouraging their rude treatment of each other and of her. She relishes turning The Priest into a stammering, blushing dude with a crush, as it becomes more devilishly hysterical with each episode that this show’s vodka-stinger humor is making its way into the church pews.
For all of the humor, however, Fleabag is never irreverent. That extends, believe it or not, to the sexual tension between Fleabag and The Priest. There’s no overt blasphemy happening here, at least not on a scale any more egregious than comedy in general. But, forgive me Father, it is sexy as hell.
There is a conversation The Priest has about why he won’t have sex with Fleabag that is perhaps the most erotic thing I’ve seen on TV in years. It strikes a subliminal chord with her, too. She emerged from rock bottom with the idea of abstinence—not having sex anymore because it only brought bad things into her life—as a way of solving her problems, and here she is now making the most intense connection of her life with a man who has made the same pledge, though for entirely different reasons.
It can’t be undersold how funny this show is. There’s a scene set a Quaker meeting, in which attendees must remain silent unless moved to speak, in which case they must stand and announce their thought to the room. What Fleabag says had me laughing so hard I had to take pause my screener and leave the room to recover.
It also can’t be undersold how delicately this show understands the difficulties and complexities of humanity, particularly for a woman, particularly of Waller-Bridge’s age, and particularly for someone who is struggling with demons and sadness.
It is an exploration of facets of femininity and womanhood and the ways in which they’ve evolved, in which societal expectations and judgments have evolved, and then the various levels of self-awareness there is about all of that. It is a beautiful, devastating portrait of sisterhood, and all of the comfort, conflict, awkwardness, and inevitability that comes with the closeness of that relationship.
It is about grief, and how we handle it...and sometimes don’t.
And it asks an immense question: What is a person supposed to do with all their love? Not even a very hot priest has the answer.
There is obscene talent on display here. Colman is a hoot as Godmother. Shaw and Kristin Scott Thomas have masterclass cameos. Clifford is the undersung hero of the show as Claire, delivering one of the most complicated performances of the year. Scott is about to send the entire country in a collective swoon as The Priest. But there isn’t enough praise to dole out for what Waller-Bridge is doing here, both on- and off-screen.
She was nominated for her first Emmy Award last year for writing the pilot of Killing Eve, another gloriously fresh show which she created. She recently joined the Star Wars universe, and it was announced last month that she’s been brought in to doctor the script of the next James Bond movie, with 007 producers hoping she can liven it up with her “offbeat style.”
It tickles me to no end that a creative voice this off-kilter and darkly kooky is being invited into these overly serious, mainstream, hallowed—hell—male-dominated franchises. But that’s what makes her voice, and Fleabag, so special. Everything about the show is so off and slightly weird but, because of that, so brutally real and normal. You, too, will fancy the very hot priest. But you’ll fall in love with Fleabag.