Television hopes to capture the collective imagination. It wants to give us talking points and provide bases for commonality. Only the most successful shows manage it, and the most impactful of those become independent cultural touchstones, having given us ways of seeing ourselves. We can easily define our lives within their lines, with no extra reference necessary: are you a Carrie or a Samantha? An Issa or a Molly? Or maybe you're none of them. Maybe you're a Fleabag.
In 2016, Phoebe Waller-Bridge's singular vision Fleabag arrived on BBC Three like a gob of spit on the pavement. The programme tells the story of a woman unravelling: her best friend just died, as did her mother three years earlier. Her small café business is going under and her on-off relationship has ended for good. She self-soothes with sex, and communicates directly and sardonically with the viewer in fourth-wall breaks.
For many, Fleabag was told with an honesty that British TV sometimes lacks in its depictions of women (notable exceptions include Channel 4's Chewing Gum, My Mad Fat Diary and, right now, Pure), combined with an originality that allowed viewers to genuinely get inside a protagonist's head. For this reason, Fleabag, for her many flaws – and her often un-relatable social privilege – feels like flesh and blood. There’s something of her – her humour offsetting deep sadness, her loneliness, her loss and the imperfect ways she chooses to deal with it – in lots of us.
Yesterday, Fleabag made its return to UK screens after a two-and-a-half year absence. In honour of it, and of its title character, some of VICE's staffers have purged their most Fleabag-esque moments for your enjoyment.
SQUIRT AND AN UBER
"I once went straight from late work drinks to meet a guy from Tinder I'd been speaking to for a couple of days, and had established was into the same kinky shit as me. We made it through one drink before the bar closed, and as we exited he pointed out that his flat was located directly above the bar we were in. I was pretty slammed by this point, but being the horny shit that I am we went up. We chatted in his apartment for a while, then he offered me some cocaine. Having only ever done the tiniest little bump of coke at a house party, after which I did a roly-poly then went home, I decided that that moment – with this weird fetish-y stranger – would be the perfect time to try the drug for real.
"We did a couple of lines, which was fun, but no one told me about the coke shits. I kept shitting in his tiny studio toilet and then spraying whatever mad cologne he had to hide the smell. I texted my mate to say that if she didn't hear from me for two hours to send the police, as this guy could easily have been a murderer. Anyway, he then went down on me and I squirted for the first time, then he flipped me over and spanked me 'til I bruised and ordered me an Uber home. Probably my best hookup ever."
"I had a one-night-stand with a guy while on holiday in Ireland. He was travelling around Europe and I ended up inviting him to stay with me in London when he came down the next month (usually I wouldn't even let one of my friends share a bed with me for more than one night, but I was manic at this point in time).
"Having only spent a few hours with him, I obviously didn’t know him well at all, and despite being so nice he was also quite exceptionally dull. Like, I told him about the time my friend used mayonnaise as emergency lube during anal (!) and he just said "right", which is absolutely the wrong response.
"Anyway, I took him to a McDonald’s drive-thru to tell him that he was a) boring and b) couldn’t stay with me anymore. But I did buy his meal and drive him to the Airbnb he had to book for the rest of his stay."
"I hate to call a television character – or anything, for that matter – 'relatable', but every living breathing moment being me could be toned down slightly to produce a Fleabag skit. Some examples from this year so far:
i. drinking a very wonky coffee at an airport food establishment owned by Jamie Oliver, and both me and my companion sweating on the flight, dissecting the likelihood of one or both of us shitting ourselves;
ii. someone I'm dating asking why I open my tabs in incognito mode ("that's the behaviour of someone who's been watching too much porn");
iii. apologising to a friend for having to miss an important event I'd promised for months to go to with her, due to total mismanagement of time and chaotic behaviour, and actually thinking, 'This is shitty Fleabag behaviour';
iv. male family members having to clear out the room I was staying in at home without prior warning and me returning to find various sex toys arranged on top of my suitcase (displaced from their temporary spot in the bedside drawer).
"You've probably done all this and worse from January through March. Point being, we're all Fleabag, aren’t we?"
"I once jerked off thinking about Nick Clegg. Hahahahaha shoot me."
THE PERFECT NIGHT OUT
"When I was 17, I somehow got into a club in Brighton using a fake ID that looked like it’d been designed by a child using MS Paint. I danced until lights up to Bob Sinclair or whatever the fuck (it was 2006) and went back to a hostel with a Swiss girl I’d met who was there on a college trip. We had sex in the shower and I left at like 8AM, thinking that's what all nights out would be like, i.e. perfect.
"I woke up at my friend’s house the next day and realised I'd left my wallet at the hostel. Like an idiot, I’d used my real name on the fake ID, and – thanks to my first proper bout of hangxiety – freaked out that the police would find it and I'd be arrested and never be able to go clubbing again. I didn’t have a number for the girl, so had to take the train back into Brighton, walk to the hostel and shout her name from outside, which was excruciating enough. Then the window opened, three girls I’d never seen poked their heads out to loudly laugh and point at me, then the girl I’d slept with emerged, threw my wallet at me, also laughed at me and slammed the window shut."
"I had just started going out with a guy when I met this friend of a friend who I immediately clicked with. After a few weeks of subtle messaging and flirting, the friend of a friend asked me to hang out. I knew it was wrong, but decided to go to the cinema with him, arguing it was merely an innocent hang with a male friend. I mentioned this to my boyfriend, to make it clear that I totally didn't fancy this guy; I think I said something like, "Oh, there's this guy that likes me, but I mean, we're just mates so we're gonna go to the cinema, um, but I mean you could come if you want to, it's super chill."
Turns out he did want to come along! So I ended up on a date with my boyfriend and side chirpse. They were both very civil to each other while I sat between them for two hours of this film. It was both simultaneously terrifying and hilarious. Two days after that soul-crushing incident, I hooked up with said friend of friend, confessed to my boyfriend and got dumped (a completely fair move)."
"The first time I smoked 'weed' was with some guys in the year above me at school. Turned out it was just a rollie, which I wasn't told until I said, out loud, 'Woah, I can really feel that shit kicking in now.'"
"The last time I went to New York I had a one night stand with a girl I met off Tinder. She had a lip ring and played the ukulele. The last thing I remember is her slowly and sadly spanking me to the sound of 'Fast Car' by Tracy Chapman (in time). She also told me she was in love with her roommate – a butch girl in a sidewards cap – and asked me what I thought of her, during sex.
"When I left the next day I vowed never to return, until I realised I had left two of my favourite rings on her window sill. I had to go back later that night to retrieve them. The roommate let me in. The girl was asleep in her room and I had to wake her up by towering over her bed and shouting, 'I've come for the rings.' It was my 26th birthday."
NOBODY LICKS FEET BETTER THAN ME
"The first time someone licked my feet it kind of took me by surprise. The closest thing I've ever seen to my real time reaction to it is, hugely regrettably, that .gif of Donald Trump."
COCAINE IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD IDEA
"I met up with a girl I'd fancied for a whole decade. My mum dropped me off, thinking she was just dropping me off at a mate's. No, no, mum. This is for sex. Anyway, I go in thinking we’ll have a couple of glasses of wine and get down to business. She pulls out a huge bag of gak and we end up drinking heavily and doing all the coke. Enough to get to the stage of: yes, probably going to need a shit or two, and where and how is that going to happen?
"The drugs have basically numbed all our senses, so we can barely speak, let alone have anything but below-average sex, and before anything can happen her kid keeps coming down from upstairs to see what the noise is. Afterwards, I decide we are probably going to be together forever, send a nude and it gets aired."
"At the tail end of a particularly lamentable summer I agreed to go out for a drink with a guy who tattooed me, found me on Instagram and chatted me up by saying I had a 'calming presence'. Being complimented as a source of comfort for someone who was cutting me for money should have been a warning sign, nevertheless, we got drunk, he explained why he isn't convinced the moon is real, and long story short we had to pause having sex so he could throw up.
"After things resumed, I reached under his pillow and pulled out a hatchet. I was on top, so for the split second I was holding it aloft like a one-dimensional Tarantino protagonist I thought 'lol, sick'. Then a sobering cold dread rippled through my body as I realised, 'Is this stranger, who lives alone and has been talking about survivalist tactics all night, going to murder me?' He didn't, and assured me it was only there for self-defence, even though he lives on the third floor of a nice building, but the vibe was dead.
"As I pulled my clothes on and ordered an Uber he asked, "Does this mean you don’t want to see my knife collection?' And so I saw him again a week later, when he promptly ate me out in front JAWS and texted me the next day with a chlamydia scare."