Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag returns (Monday March 4, BBC1, 10.35pm) with all the pitfalls associated with second-album, second-novel, second-anything syndrome. A lightly worn, brilliantly offhand creation with a “like me, don’t like me, I don’t care” attitude, it has become a cultural artefact with standards to maintain and an audience to please. In the meantime, the success of the PWB-penned spy romp Killing Eve (which I was more “meh” about than most) brought her to international awareness. Suddenly there’s our Phoebe on the red carpet. Can an A-lister still cut it as a messed-up Everywoman?
In the first season of Fleabag, the fate of the post-feminist female ricocheting around London in a state of libidinal angst gave rise to a firework display of savage gags and pratfalls. The title character made a point of setting her standards so low she stumbled over them. You need the darkness if you’re going to light up the sky, and the mystery surrounding Boo’s death (the friend with whom our heroine sets up a guinea pig-themed café) provided a skeletal plot. With that resolved, what’s next for Fleabag?
With one of the complicit looks to camera that were the hallmark of season one, she mops a bloodied nose in the toilet of a fancy restaurant and insists: “This is a love story.” The first episode, taking place “371 days, 19 hours and 26 minutes” after the first season’s finale, adheres almost entirely to the Aristotelian unities of place, time and action, and is set during a hellish family meal. At the head of the table is Fleabag’s repellent artist godmother, played with malevolent gusto by Olivia Colman. In the ascendant at the end of season one, she is still prating on about the success of her “Sexhibition”. No wonder Fleabag breaks cover occasionally for fag and loo breaks.
Meanwhile, sister Claire (Sian Clifford) with the cold, cold heart hasn’t spoken to Fleabag since the events of the previous season, and is newly lovey-dovey with her vile husband. “Yeuch,” says Fleabag to us. “Yeuch.” Fortunately there’s a new arrival at the table, whose bizarre demeanour naturally attracts her close attention. After the revelation about her involvement in Boo’s death, Fleabag has eschewed all sexual activity. How long is that likely to last? One doesn’t have to share Fleabag’s taste in men but it is a stretch to find Andrew Scott “hot” in this twitching, inky-eyed guise. Season two will inevitably be starrier — Kristin Scott Thomas is to join the cast, and Fleabag’s plunging designer outfit is way beyond the budget of a humble café-owner — but its cocktail of tart iciness remains irresistible.
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