Last weekend, the second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag sweeped at the Emmys, stealing the crown from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The first season of Fleabag, which premiered in 2016, garnered no such awards attention, however, which would imply that the second season is far superior to the first.
I would argue: for good reason. In fact, I would even go so far as to recommend skipping season one all together.
Look, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is undeniably a story-telling genius. I can’t wait to continue to watch her take over the world. Saying the first season of Fleabag is worse than the second does not at all mean that it’s bad. Fleabag is a character who jumps off the screen from the very first scene, thanks to the dynamite combo that is Waller-Bridge’s writing and performance.
The first season just isn’t as tightly-paced or compelling. Fleabag’s interactions with meaningful characters feel few and far between. Her own character is difficult to empathize with because we don’t fully understand her motivations until the end of the season. The journey feels less about Fleabag’s own personal growth and more about coming to understand why she is in this position to have to grow. Finally, and this is admittedly more a personal preference, but the tone of the first season is too dark and one-note. There are very few moments of joy amidst the angst.
The second season tells you everything you need to know about the first. Fleabag lost her mother and her best friend/business partner. Due to the loss of the latter, compounded with her self-blame over it, her business struggled. She drowned her sorrows in alcohol and sex, further isolating the family she had left. Her brother-in-law tried to take advantage of her at her sister’s birthday party, and when confronted with it, her sister took his side.
It’s ironic to me that the first season started out as a one-woman play, when it is the second season that tells its story in a more satisfying six act structure. Fleabag develops from fearing that she’s lost everyone she loves to accepting that she’s at her strongest when she lets herself love, despite its inevitable loss by either death or choice. Her every interaction with the other characters is crucial to her reaching that point of epiphany and liberation. Every episode feels thematically cohesive-the Engagement Dinner, the Women’s Awards Ceremony, the Wedding. Yet, despite some heavier moments, there is still realistic hope.
The viewer knows that even after she leaves us, Fleabag will definitely still make some egregious mistakes. It’s just that after being an active participant in the second season we have faith in her self-respect; in her ability to pick herself up, dust herself off, and try again without wallowing.
The first season is merely the prequel you don’t need, a la any prequel ever.
We’re living in the era of Peak TV. Don’t feel obligated to watch every single second of a series as if it’s homework, when you can instead pick and choose a path to optimize your own enjoyment.
Fleabag is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
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