Fleabag was one of the most confident tv debuts I’ve ever seen, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s adaptation of her own play leaping on the screen and smacking the audience around the face, before kissing it gently and then tickling it a lot. Or something like that anyway, with the point being that it often shocked, enchanted and then made me laugh an awful lot during it’s six episode run as we fell in love with the never actually named Fleabag and the cast of complicated characters she surrounded herself with.
Now returning to our screens after a three year wait, the big question is whether or not Waller-Bridge is able to captivate us all over again, and on the strength of this opening episode the answer is a resounding yes, but it may not quite be what you expect. For one thing it’s set in a restaurant for all but the whole running time, and bar the odd foray outside for a quick cigarette it sees Fleabag, her father (Bill Paterson), Godmother (Olivia Colman), sister Claire (Sian Clifford), her twattish husband Martin (Brett Gelman) and a priest (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott) sat around a table celebrating the fact that her father and godmother are engaged.
We know it’s going to end badly from the beginning as we see Fleabag attend to a bloody nose in the toilets, so the preceding twenty five minutes are a slow burn until the event inevitably explodes. It’s a brave decision from Waller-Bridge to have the show start in such a serene manner as initially the family swap stories and exchange polite banter, but there are clear tensions simmering in the background with Claire and Martin not having spoken to Fleabag in the year since the events of the previous series, and as always Olivia Colman’s godmother is something of a smug, superior idiot, talking over the father and mentioning that yes, she’s wearing fur “But it’s okay because it had a stroke”. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone as to how good Colman is in the role, and once again everyone else is fantastic too, including newcomer to the show Andrew Scott.
Scott’s unnamed priest is involved in the celebration as he’s going to be marrying the happy couple, and also because he’s lonely and new to the parish. But it seems his appearance is going to be even more notable than that as Fleabag begins the episode by commenting “This is a love story” and the two quickly bond, mainly as he’s a sweary type but also very honest, when asked why he doesn’t see his brother anymore he admits that it’s because said sibling is a paedophile, and that “I’m aware of the irony of that” in a very dark but also very funny moment, which is one that suggests he’ll be perfect for Waller-Bridge’s character and her twisted sense of humour.
Over halfway through the episode and though it’s been very funny it’s still relatively calm and Fleabag’s father is surprised, mentioning that “You’re not being naughty” in a patronising way, and it’s clear that she really is trying her best not to upset anyone, despite Martin’s twattish comments and Colman’s overbearing manner. Alas it doesn’t last, but it’s genuinely not her fault after she discovers Claire having a miscarriage in the toilet, who then refuses to go to the hospital. Chaos ensues, but it’s satisfying chaos as Martin gets punched in the face and the two sisters are finally reunited at the end.
Anyone who expected fireworks from the beginning may be a bit disappointed, and Fleabag herself isn’t in the self-destructive mode that she was in the first series, but that’s all for the better of the show as it means we’re not going to just get a repeat of previous events and instead see the character grow and evolve which I’ve a feeling is going to be far more satisfying. And the main thing is that she still has the ability to be brutally funny, the dialogue throughout is glorious and the amazing cast never stop impressing, and judging by this first episode this second series is going to be just as scintillating as the first was.