Golden Words — Fleabag, “Episode 1”

Since great television comedy always begins with the script, this series of posts considers the individual episodes that have claimed the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series over the years.

A familiar woman stands before one of the sinks of what appears to be a public bathroom in a fairly posh establishment. It’s revealed that she’s cleaning blood off her face, apparently from a blow to her nose. There’s a knock on the door and a man’s voice is heard, asking, “Can I do anything?” She responds, “No, thank you,” and he replies, “They’ve gone.” The familiar woman turns and extends a cloth to another woman, sitting on the ground looking somewhat shell-shocked, with a similar splash of blood across her face. After briefly checking herself in the mirror, trying valiantly to regain her poise, the familiar woman turns to look directly at the camera. “This is a love story,” she states with a slight, satisfied smile.

So goes the perfect beginning to a spectacular season of television. Phoebe Waller-Bridge based the first season of Fleabag on her one-woman stage show of the same name, the confessional aspect of monologuing directly to the audience replicated through expert, inspired breaking of the the fourth wall in the series. For the second season — which she has pledged is also the last season — Waller-Bridge ingeniously deconstructs the conceit. For the opening episode, simply titled “Episode 1,” she hasn’t quite reached that point yet. Instead, her writing reestablishes everything about the series: the characters, their tense relationships, the jovially caustic tone. It also introduces a key new character, a handsome priest (Andrew Scott) who becomes the object of Waller-Bridge’s lead character in the love story she promises. The core of the episode is a family dinner that is a masterpiece of aggression that evolves from passive to right on the edge of active.

“Episode 1,” like every other piece of Fleabag‘s second season, is a thrilling creative feat. It is precisely the sort of work that I expect to be ignored by institutions that dole out entertainment awards. And yet there Waller-Bridge was, standing on a Los Angeles stage with an Emmy in hand, her writing judged the best of the year over competition such as Veep and Barry, established favorites of the Television Academy. It was an early award for the ceremony, and it turned out to be the harbinger of a night where the show cleaned up, nabbing trophy after trophy. The award for Waller-Bridge’s words is perhaps the most satisfying, though. Her script feels like a pure, potent manifestation of Waller-Bridge’s brilliance.

Other posts in this series can be found at the “Golden Words” tag.

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