There’s a particular outfit Phoebe Waller-Bridge wears in the second season of “Fleabag” that I’ve come to associate with the show — a striped, black and white T-shirt worn under black overalls.
When Waller-Bridge won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series at the Emmys, she spoke in front of a giant screen displaying her character in this same outfit. Her character’s face was turned toward the camera, wryly smiling as if to let us know she was in on the joke.
To be honest, there’s nothing particularly original about “Fleabag.” After all, “Sex and the City” popularized the “life of a city-dwelling 20-something white woman who has a lot of sex” genre of television in 1998. “Fleabag,” in turn, revolves around a young woman living in London who deals with the grief she feels over the death of a close friend by having lots of casual sex.
In this way, the clearest precedent to “Fleabag” is probably HBO’s “Girls,” which was also known for its no-holds-barred portrayal of sex and the single woman. “Girls” was well-reviewed by critics but also mired in controversy. When creator Lena Dunham was criticized for whitewashing New York City, even basketball superstar and global cultural ambassador Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighed in.
Despite its controversial legacy, the influence of “Girls” is undeniable. Its ripple effect is seen in shows such as “Better Things,” “Master of None,” “This Way Up,” “Insecure,” “Catastrophe,” “Difficult People” and “Broad City.” Like “Fleabag,” all these shows are produced, written and starred by the same person.
Because many of these shows don’t conform to standard comedic tropes, they tend to occupy an amorphous space between comedy and drama. Many are about economically well-to-do white women. “Fleabag” is just one of many.
Still, there’s something about “Fleabag” that’s made it such a hit. Over the summer, New York Magazine published a frenzy of articles on the show, including one called “I Bought the Fleabag Jumpsuit.”
Everyone is in love with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and rightfully so.
A lot of “Fleabag”’s popularity probably has to do with Waller-Bridge’s gentle relatability. With her lanky frame and perpetual giggle, she is beautiful, but not intimidatingly so. She’s your best friend, your beloved sister and cool professor.
In “Fleabag,” she often turns to the camera, smirking knowingly when something awkward, embarrassing or funny happens. The (fake) intimacy produced by these regular breaches of the fourth wall makes watching “Fleabag” feel like hanging out with a close friend, one who can speak volumes through a single glance.
In “Crashing,” another show Waller-Bridge created, she plays a different version of herself. While “Fleabag” Waller-Bridge is a bit quiet, often expressing herself through asides to the camera rather than out loud, “Crashing” Waller-Bridge is brash, seductive and rarely thinks before she speaks — a true manic-pixie nightmare girl.
The show’s title is derived from its premise: a bunch of twenty-somethings “crashing” in an abandoned hospital-turned-housing-unit-for-cheap, but it could also be said that Waller-Bridge’s character crashes into the social scene. A main plotline involves her stirring up jealousy between a former friend and his girlfriend.
In one of my favorite “Crashing” scenes, Waller-Bridge strums a ukulele at a dinner party and goads people into singing their “truth song,” in which Waller-Bridge’s character says a word and the singer must sing a song about it. In the process of singing a truth song, characters end up revealing things they meant to keep secret.
For example: “I really liked the curry, it was really yummy, but Kate told us to big it up whether we did or not.” By the end of the night, relationships are ruined.
“Crashing” didn’t have a cultural moment like “Fleabag” did, possibly because the former’s themes are less adult. At its heart, “Fleabag” is a show about a woman learning to grow up a little later than those around her, whereas everyone in “Crashing” is young and reckless.
“Fleabag” is probably the better show, but “Crashing,” which never fully found its audience, is more relatable to college-aged viewers. Both are great examples of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s talent for creating television that is both personal and broadly-appealing.
Which brings me back to the outfit. There is nothing particularly unique about overalls and horizontal stripes, but it’s classic. It’s crowd-pleasing. It’s fashionable. Like Phoebe Waller-Bridge herself.
Gabriella Del Greco SC ’21 is TSL’s TV columnist. She’s majoring in economics and probably watches more TV than is medically recommended.