This summer, three people told me to watch the same show, all on the same day. One of them was a female coworker from the company I interned with this summer, whose argument for the show was that it had exquisite writing; the other was a male coworker from the same internship, whose argument was that it was the realest portrayal of the “complex reality” of being a woman that he had ever seen; and the last was my sister, whose argument doesn’t matter because I’d basically watch or read anything she recommends to me. Not too big a dataset, but diverse enough to make me stealthily leave work early to start watching the show. The show, of course, was “Fleabag.”
Creator, writer and actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag” is intelligent, hilarious, witty, incredibly engaging and much too short for how fantastic a show it is. As a viewer, I felt cheated after I finished the sixth and final episode of season two, as though my life had no meaning after Andrew Scott’s “Hot Priest” exited the frame. I could talk about the ingenious work that Waller-Bridge has created for ages, but the 11 Emmy nominations that season two of “Fleabag” bagged this year is revolutionary enough as it is.
“Fleabag” stands out alongside two other female-created shows among a total of seven shows nominated for the outstanding comedy series award — Amy Sherman-Palladino for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Natasha Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland for “Russian Doll.” Additionally, “Veep” and “The Good Place,” which are both shows that forefront women’s stories yet are written and led by male creators, also occupy well-deserved places in this category.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” although occupying the same genre, stands in sharp contrast to the storytelling style of “Fleabag.” What begins as a classically happy tale of a Jewish woman in 1950s New York City who is living the perfect post-marriage life quickly and unexpectedly transforms into a show featuring a female protagonist with incredible agency. Midge isn’t a rebel; she is comfortable with her life and her role as a mother, a daughter and a female in a society that is inherently patriarchal, and yet she embraces her career as a stand-up comic with the utmost grace. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is a story about a woman who has everything, but audiences do not envy her for it — we learn to love her instead.
At work this summer, I remember having a conversation with my coworkers about the kind of content production houses and online video platforms should be picking up. Naively and idealistically, I proposed that companies should focus on producing only female-led or female-driven stories, so that all audiences won’t have a choice but to watch content that features underrepresented ideas and opinions that should be spotlighted. The proposition was heavily unrealistic, especially because the argument was centered on corporate media companies, but given the Emmy nominations for outstanding comedy series this year, my argument seems to hold.
The 20 Emmy nominations for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” this year, including in the comedy series category, highlight the importance of a female character who is ambitious and successful while still being cognizant of and grounded by her emotions and what she deems to be her responsibilities. The phenomenal success and positive reception of the Amazon Prime Video series highlights the urgency of the need for a series with a complex female character at its core.
“Fleabag” is real and raw. It can be relatable to several of its female audience members, as well as honest and informative to many men, without being the slightest bit preachy. It forces the viewer to be active, privy to Fleabag’s constant turns to the camera as she talks directly to her audience. It is devastating, disastrous, beautiful and ridiculously funny. The 11 nominations for “Fleabag” also helped create a history for Waller-Bridge, as Waller-Bridge’s success with “Fleabag” and the BBC America drama “Killing Eve” led the producers of the upcoming 25th James Bond film to bring Waller-Bridge on to their team of writers, making her the second woman to write for the franchise.
I find that I deeply resonate with a thought from “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” lead Rachel Brosnahan, who has been nominated for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for the second time in a row: She is tired of hearing the word “strong” as an adjective to describe female characters.
“The problem with that term is that it’s always been defined by the male gaze. We look at strong female characters as projecting the same qualities we think make men strong, (such as) being physically strong or powerful or ambitious or driven,” said Brosnahan in an interview with Variety. “There’s an absence of vulnerability that usually comes with the more stereotypical definition of what it means to be strong, but there’s a trend happening in television right now and that definition is broadening.”
The Emmy nominations this year justify Brosnahan’s idea, and as a woman and aspiring creative, I hope that this is only the beginning of what is to come for women in comedy in particular and female creatives in television in general. Above all — I hope this encourages Phoebe Waller-Bridge to write a third season of “Fleabag.”