04 April 2019, The Tablet

Fleabag’s introduction of a Catholic priest was an unexpected development

Fleabag’s introduction of a Catholic priest was an unexpected development

The BBC has struggled with the concept of popular programming for younger people for decades. The big period and crime dramas the organisation excels at tend to draw in traditional, middle-aged weekend viewers, while the fear that Millennials have been seduced by Netflix has worried executives extensively.

Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s six-part comedy series, has decisively bucked the trend, dragging in a vast viewership among the under-35s. The second series was announced to much young excitement, and has pulled in even more young people than the debut. The introduction of a Catholic priest as a central character was an unexpected development, but one that intrigued the religious and agnostic friends in my circle alike.

In the initial episodes, my WhatsApp notifications buzzed with pedantic asides: during church scenes, “That’s a Protestant prayer” or “Why did she say ‘And also with you’, it’s not 2010”, a particularly Millennial Catholic experience. But later episodes tease out deeper issues. The main character, the eponymous “Fleabag”, played by Waller-Bridge, who sees herself as an emotional wreck, dealing with the recent death of her mother and best friend, a failing cafe business, and an inability to sustain relationships beyond awkward casual sex, strikes up an unlikely friendship with a priest. He’s “new to the parish” and lonely, in his words, and has been preparing her father and godmother for their forthcoming wedding.

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