If TV in 2019 could be summed in a single word, it would be “kneel”. It’s the command given by Adam Scott’s instantly-iconic priest in a scene that sent the trajectory of Fleabag’s second series pinging off into the sexually-charged stratosphere, and awakened the thirst of a nation.
So electric was the moment when Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “pervy” protagonist finally locked lips with her Hot Priest that it’s earned itself a nomination at the 2020 BAFTA TV awards, which take under COVID-induced, socially distanced measures on 31st July. The scene is nominated in the “Must-see moment” category and is one of four BAFTA nods that the show receives this year: Waller-Bridge and Sian Clifford – who plays her priggish yet lovable onscreen sister – are both up for Best Actress, and there’s a Scripted Comedy nomination that could lead to the big win of the night.
I say “could”, but there’s more chance of Fleabag joining the clergy herself than this show walking away empty-handed on Friday. Whether it should win, however, is up for debate.
This is not to say that Fleabag has been nothing short of a phenomenon. Its international success earned the show a Peabody in June, which joined an awards cabinet boasting six Emmys (it was the first British show to win the Best Comedy Series award in 2019) and two Golden Globes. It made President Obama’s list of his favourite shows of 2019, after which Fleabag fans and Waller-Bridge herself gleefully reference a joke in the series one premiere about masturbating to the former POTUS.
“I would like to thank Obama for putting us on his list,” she said during her Golden Globes acceptance speech, before adding: “And as some of you may know, he’s always been on mine.”
Back on home ground, over 2.5 million people watched Fleabag’s final episode; Waller-Bridge scooped her first BAFTA for Best Actress back in 2017; and the show’s gargantuan success is believed to be a major reason why BBC Three looks likely to return as a broadcast channel after it pivoted to online in 2016.
Fleabag has done wonders for British telly and, with no third season in sight, this may be the final chance for BAFTA to commend its success. But with over three years of sweeping awards seasons and with Waller-Bridge using the show to pivot on to greater things, now would be the time to pass the BAFTA baton onto those in need of that crucial exposure.
Whatever your opinion on awards season, voting bodies remain key gatekeepers within film and TV. For too long these institutions have showered glory upon those who either earned it long ago or are already rooted in success instead of boosting the careers of creatives brimming with promise, who still have a way to go.
Fleabag’s fellow nominees this year couldn’t be finer examples of the above. Competing with Waller-Bridge and Clifford in the Best Actress category is Gbemisola Ikumelo, who fronts Famalam, a black British sketch show that has finessed its satirical voice for a stronger second season. Competing for Best Scripted Comedy, Jamie Demetriou’s Stath Lets Flats uses the treacherous, two-tone suited world of London letting agents as a playground for the sweet and silly mishaps that take place in a family-run business.
Derry Girls, meanwhile, has garnered a strong fanbase with its clumsy coming-of-age hijinks set during the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Then there are those to consider that didn’t make the cut, like Irish comedian Aisling Bea’s brittle yet beautifully written first series This Way Up on Channel 4, or Mae Martin’s equally gutsy queer comedy Feel Good (although Martin is Canadian, the show was British-made).
Since turning over her shoulder and bidding farewell to the legions of fans watching tearfully through their TV and laptop screens in 2019, Phoebe Waller-Bridge has done more than okay. Her limited-run revival of the original Fleabag stage show smashed theatre box office records before making an additional $6.5 million by streaming in cinemas across the world. Her writing credit will appear on Bond 25, a.k.a No Time To Die, when it eventually rolls into cinemas. She’s launching her own production company, while her exclusive content deal with Amazon is believed to be worth nearly £50 million.
A BAFTA trophy for Waller-Bridge at this stage feels like an accessory. For anyone else, it’s a ticket to other projects, or to getting another series commissioned, or the chance to simply stand up on that stage (or in this case, in their living room and speak via a live feed) and show other people from similar backgrounds what their future could look like. It’s time to move on from Fleabag, BAFTA, and make way for someone else.