Fleabag’s over: what are TV critics going to w*** to now?

Picture Shows: Fleabag (PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE). Image Credit: BBC/Two Brothers/Luke Varley.

I should state that this article is not attacking the show. Of course Fleabag is good. I’m just so sick of critics fawning over it.

When I reviewed the first episode of the latest series I made reference to a scene in the first series in which the title character, played by creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is seen masturbating to footage of Barack Obama, and that similarly critics are so sycophantic in their praise of Fleabag that in my head every newspaper TV critic in the country is secretly w***ing off to Waller-Bridge.

Over the past weeks this feeling has just grown, my enjoyment of this programme always slightly knocked down by all the press about it. To me, my analogy is a bit of a coping mechanism. I wouldn’t be surprised if these critics aren’t w***ing off to other shows. In my head, the critics are all hoping that Mrs. Brown’s Boys is really long snuff film hoping for a good payoff, and that critics pleasuring themselves over Derry Girls are the last stragglers waiting to be caught by Operation Yewtree.

However, some recent press coverage seems to be disturbingly proving me right. While no-one is talking about fancying Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a few female journalists have written pieces in among other places The Mirror and The Irish Times, about women fancying the Priest played by Andrew Scott. Coincidentally, the character is also the source of the one piece of negative press I have come across about Fleabag: an opinion piece in the Church Times entitled: “Fleabag priest is just another abuser”, where one Hannah Malcolm says of the speech about how awful love he gives in the wedding in finale that it’s: “a description of a desire to control someone else for your own ends. This is a description of someone who gains someone else’s affection to learn their vulnerabilities and exploit them.” The article has some interesting things about the church, sex and abuse, although there is also a tiny part of me wondering whether is this another reason why this Anglican publication is printing something negative relating to a Catholic.

Readers may be wondering why I don’t just stop reading all of the press. The answer is that I can’t. One of my other jobs is with the British Comedy Guide, where I collect all the press clippings relating to British comedy. This includes TV, radio, film and live shows, where among other things I collect around 50,000 reviews per year during the Edinburgh Fringe, which is where Fleabag debuted in 2013. It is a job with a lot of downsides, including having to read websites no-one should ever have to come across (think the Daily Mail’s bad? Spiked.com is even more loathsome. Stay away from it for God’s sake). Because of this job, I came across all the press for Fleabag, and it felt like it was not just telling you, but ordering to watch Fleabag. It was pressure I succumbed to.

I think my problem is that I am just sick of all the press over certain shows. Whether it is all the papers praising shows like Fleabag, Derry Girls, The Bodyguard etc., or hating other shows like Mrs. Brown’s Boys. What is the point in all the press talking about the same shows? The answer is that if you don’t talk about it, the public won’t come to your outlet and you lose money because you are not discussing their favourite topic. Everyone in the media is sinking to the lowest common denominator.

When I joined OTB, I wrote a regular column about Japanese animation. It was nice to talk about something that relatively few people knew about, because I wanted to encourage other people to join in and try something new. I no longer write that column. I’m just as guilty of being part of the herd as everyone else in the mainstream press and I hate myself for it.

I think this may be all down to my Asperger’s syndrome. I’m an outsider from birth. The mainstream of not just culture, but all of life, is not something I belong to. I want something different because I am different, and what’s the point of watching something different if everyone is saying you should be part of it. Yes, Fleabag has its place in the world, but we need to explore other things that we have yet to discover. We need diversity in culture.

If you don’t agree with me, you can always go to the iPlayer with a box of Kleenex.