“- You look like a child – Thank you”
With Fleabag (2016 – 2019) and Killing Eve (2018 – present) hailed as two of the wittiest shows on our TVs, it’s unlikely you haven’t heard of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. However, even if you are familiar with her work, it’s likely you haven’t heard of the British comedy Crashing (2016), her first TV series. There’s a reason why it has remained under the radar.
The six-episode series follows the lives of six twenty-somethings, who live as flatmates and property guardians in an massive, dilapidated hospital. Fun-loving Lulu (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) pops back into Anthony’s (Damien Molony) life, rattling the foundations of his relationship with scrupulous Kate (Louise Ford). Meanwhile, promiscuous Sam (Jonathan Bailey) befriends one of the many inhabitants of the hospital, Fred (Amit Shah), only to realise that there may be more than friendship on his mind. Not far away, eccentric French artist Melody (Julie Dray) seeks to splash divorcee Colin’s (Adrian Scarborough) sorrow onto a blank canvas – and maybe across her sheets, as well. Madness erupts every time they all come together.
Much like Fleabag, the series was originally written as a play. However, unlike its successor, Crashing clutches onto timeworn tropes that result in predictable endings – airing out much of the musty, sultry tension that was presumably meant to stick around for the duration of the season. The show’s gastric humour, with its abundance of sexual undertones, tries to convey the awkwardness and lack of direction in life that we experience in our twenties. Instead, it presents confident, witty and deliciously odd adults that seem perfectly aware of their wrong-doings and shortcomings. Instead of striving for something better, they resort to childishly selfish acts of hedonism, manipulating their self-perception to justify their morally dubious behaviour. In doing so, they strip the plot of its charm. While we should be laughing, we can’t help but judge the imposters pretending to be struggling young adults.
Crashing seems like Fleabag‘s pimply cousin. It has none of the same outrageous moments and rebellious breaking of the fourth wall. Moreover, it lacks Killing Eve‘s snappy, cynical dialogue, which is replaced with profanities characteristic of a child stomping its feet. In a 2018 interview with The Guardian, Phoebe Waller-Bridge confessed she “depicts characters who say the unsayable, do the undoable and defy every stereotype of feminine behaviour”. In short, she gives birth to non-compliant women. While that may be true for its successors, Crashing‘s female characters are threatened primarily by each other. Our perception of them seems jarring, as they are shown through the scrutinous male gaze, which has to witness petty quarrels and cruel sabotage. Men, however, don’t look much better. Instead of being as multidimensional as the toe-stepping women, they are bland and predictable. Utterly forgettable, in fact.
That being said, there are moments of surprising lightness and crumbling walls, which prove satisfying to watch. Beginnings are tough, and it’s clear that this series has allowed Phoebe Waller-Bridge to stretch her wings a little before taking flight. With reports claiming that she may write a new James Bond spin-off franchise, we are bound to crack a few ribs from laughter in the future.
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