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So here's the thing, you're not actually supposed to like Fleabag.

Finding a TV series that is beloved by both critics and fans alike is as rare and wonderful as discovering a crumpled $20 note in your wallet just before payday.

Series creator and writer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, stars as the show’s protagonist known only to the audience as “Fleabag”, a 30-something woman living a slightly disaster-filled life in London who pauses at certain pivotal moments, such as when she’s in the midst of having awkward sex, to talk frankly and directly to the camera about what’s really going on.

The show also chronicles both the extreme grief and loneliness of Fleabag’s life, coupled with her many sexual exploits and her volatile relationship with her family.

Listen to Laura Brodnik and Holly Wainwright debrief on Fleabag on the latest episode of Mamamia Reviews. They explain why the main cast of characters don’t have names, the true significance of Hot Priest and the show’s one and only flaw. 

Since the show first aired in 2016, it has been called everything from “a work of undeniable genius” to “gorgeous and heartbreaking” and of course all of these critiques are true.

Despite its near perfect universal reviews, however, there has been a bit of criticism thrown Fleabag’s way.

Since Fleabag ended its TV run with a second season, the protagonist’s “relatability” has been a matter of exhaustive online and media debate. There is talk that the character is too posh, too privileged and in some cases even too quirky, to relate to the average TV viewer.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge has responded to criticism mounting against Fleabag, insisting that such arguments “undermine the story” and that people from a wide range of backgrounds should be able to relate to her show.

“To criticise a story on the basis of where the author had come from, or how privileged the author is, undermines the story,” she said on an episode of the podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day.

I would argue, however, that true criticism of Fleabag does not lie with the finished TV product itself, but more with the way we have chosen to consume it.

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More so now than ever before, we want our characters and storylines to reflect our own lives, experiences, and ideas. The quest for relatability has never been as strong as it is now, perhaps in retaliation to the overly-curated world we are served up via our social media feeds each day.

And while there is a high amount of relatability in Fleabag’s story, her complicated relationship with sex and the way she interacts with her family will both hit a strong and familiar nerve with women of many ages, she is not meant to be a wholly relatable or even likable character.

Take for instance her very name.

By christening her “Fleabag” Waller-Bridge has presented her as more of an idea than a real flesh and blood women. The term “Fleabag” itself is meant to be a placeholder moniker, a way for us to verbally identify the character in conversations while never actually having any familiarity and ties with her.

If you look at the actual origin story of the name, the fact that it was one of Waller-Bridge’s nicknames as a kid and has no backstory or particular sentimental family meaning, is a clue as to what she wants the character to mean to the audience.

The character of Fleabag exists outside of our reality, at times she is a complete caricature of a feeling we’ve all had or a heightened portrayal of a way we’ve wanted to behave.

There are moments where we can wholly relate to her, love her intensely and dislike her wildly, but you are not meant to feel any of these one emotions throughout the entirety of the series.

Attempting to relate to every aspect of Fleabag’s life and decision-making is like looking at the world of The Little Mermaid and becoming anxious and then angry that you’re not seeing yourself completely in the half-fish woman who longs to live above water.

Fleabag is the TV embodiment of that little part of our own insecurities and imagination who wanders off every so often, and it’s best if you just let her.

You can watch seasons one and two of Fleabag now on Amazon Prime Video. 

For more stories like this, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.  You can also visit our newsletter page and sign up to “TV and Movies”  for a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews (see one of her newsletters here). 

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