TV review: Fleabag, Derry GirlsHome and Arcadia

15 March 2019


Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Andrew Scott in Fleabag

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Andrew Scott in Fleabag

THE wrong kind of priest! The extensive trailers for the new series of Fleabag (BBC1, Mondays) (Paul Vallely, 8 March) revealed that our heroine would entangle herself with a man of the cloth, and I expected an easy-to-write review, chock-full of my trade­mark cheap gags at the expense of the Church of England.

But, in last week’s initial episode, we learned that the cleric was Roman Catholic, knocking on the head all my in-house animadversions. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who writes, directs, and stars, is an extraordinary comic force. For her, no enormity is off limits: surely no previous sitcom family dinner-party, already plumbing depths of barely suppressed venom and non-communication, has been conclusively derailed by a miscarriage.

Curiously, movingly, having set up a gallery of monsters and monstrosities, she retains an essential tenderness: having been sold down the river all evening by her controlling, terminally uptight sister, she gave us, in the closing frame, a moment of deep affection.

The prevailing darkness is shot through with shafts of light. Notice the ethical set-up: Waller-Bridge comments on speeches and actions by turning directly to camera and pulling a face, or lets us know by the merest twitch of her wonderfully expressive eyes and mouth what she really thinks. These moments are very funny, if often basic school-playground stuff; but they convey the truth of what is going on, undermining the posturing and pretension of what everyone else is saying and doing. Fleabag is a chaotic, impulsive mess — but she is the moral compass of the farce.

There were more Catholics in Derry Girls (Channel 4, Tuesdays). Last week, they wrecked a bonding exercise meant to build bridges with Protestant boys. I found it crass and trite. Most other critics are very keen on it; perhaps they have so little contact with religion that they find a swearing nun cutting-edge.

Far better is Home (also Channel 4, Tuesdays), which seems like a traditional sitcom set in pebble­dashed-suburbia, but gently subverts the medium into something of real seriousness. As the family return home from France, they discover a stowaway in the boot: Sami, an asylum-seeker from Syria. Sami turns out to be a noble alien — calm, funny, perceptive. He will, no doubt, show them their true selves, without, I think, sacrificing the laughs.

Arcadia (BBC4, Sunday) was truly groundbreaking TV: a 90-minute rhapsody celebrating traditional rural England, mining the BFI National Archive for wondrous footage of ancient rituals and practices. It was polemical and binary: honest workers v. ignoble toffs; positing a pagan Britain still flourishing wherever there is dissent and misrule — and yet, despite these over-simplifications, a work of deep creative power that lodges in the imagination.

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