Just in case you hadn’t noticed, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a big deal.
A really big deal.
Much of the current high regard in which this supremely-talented and sharply observational writer and performer is held comes down to Fleabag, a two-season British series based on the 2013 stage play of the same name, which took the world by storm with a protagonist who manifestly could not get her life together, no matter how hard she tried.
Rather than making Fleabag, who is never assigned an actual name at any point, the butt of crudely-executed ridicule, Waller-Bridge makes her a fully three-dimensional flawed but authentic person who, like many of us, wants to do better but is weighed down by grief, depression, familial issues and a whole host of other existential dramas.
While the one-season 2016 British series Crashing, also created and written by Waller-Bridge, never attained the giddy heights of Fleabag’s popularity nor its matched its marginally greater longevity, it does bear the same hallmarks of a writer who not only gets what it’s like to be a real, broken person but can express it in a way that is both manically funny and affectingly poignant.
Set in a disused hospital in London, Crashing explores the lives of six residents of a particular wing, people who pay a nominal rent to occupy an un-refurbished building as a way of keeping it safe from squatters and the usual wear-and-tear neglect that comes from a lack of active occupants.
If you’re into clean lines and trifles like skirting boards, doors and shelves that don’t routinely crash the ground, then you likely won’t be the sort of person who is happy to live for short periods of times in longer fir-for-purpose schools, hospitals, old peoples’ homes etc.
But the cast of Crashing, a mix bunch of grounded but idiosyncratic people are very much those people, all happy to live in the barely under control chaos of living in a communal setting that always feels like it’s step away from poorly-decorated anarchy.
Louise aka Lulu (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) comes to London, ostensibly as part of a round Britain trip to find herself after the end of a less than ideal relationship that ended badly, but mainly to see, though she is reluctant to admit that, to see if there is any chance of anything happening with Anthony (Damien Molony), a childhood friend with whom she is very much in love.
Big catch here? Anthony is engaged to anally-retentive, repressed manic pixie girl (yes, such a person exists) Kate (Louise Ford) who takes an immediate dislike to Lulu, rightly surmising that her fiance’s friend may not have the most platonic of goals in mind.
As Lulu, Anthony and Kate settle into a six-episode dance around what each is actually thinking, the other residents have dramas of their own.
Sam (Jonathan Bailey), who aggressively pushes him as a ladies’ man extraordinaire – me think he doth protest too much, and as it turns out, he does – finds himself having to come to grips with his sexuality when he gets to know the very sweet, quietly-awkward Fred (Amit Shah) who is out and proud but not entirely sure what to do with it.
While those two men do a delightfully frustrating back and forth with each other, ever more confused by Sam’s trenchant inability to be honest with himself or others, another would-be couple, middle-aged divorced man Colin (Adrian Scarborough) and French “zero fucks to give” painter Melody (Julie Dray) are trying to figure out if they are just muse and creative person or something more.
On face value, there’s probably nothing you haven’t seen in Crashing that hasn’t been on screen in some form or another many times before.
What makes Crashing so much fun to watch is the frenetic energy that comes from a script that uses snap-happy dialogue, and a willingness to play madly with tone so that one person can go from thoughtfully touching to curry-splattered manic in minutes, all brought to vivid life by performances which nail a fine balance between emotionally resonant and comically out there.
So well is this balance maintained throughout, and so well does Waller-Bridge tell the story of very normal people in messily over-the-top situations that defy their ability to resolve neatly and well, because let’s face it, who of us ever does life in a way that is gloriously flawed, that Crashing quickly becomes, for all its formulaic element, one of the most real shows you’ll ever see.
Sure, the setting is unusual, and it’s highly unlikely most people would ever consent to live in a shuttered-off building – as the show makes clear, that kind of living arrangement attracts a particular type of quirky person – and some of the more loaded scenes are brilliantly, emotionally charged bonkers exercises in the mesmerisingly fun-to-watch extremes of human behaviour but the raw, aching, often hilarious contained within?
Oh, so real and if you have any sort of semblance of self awareness, you will see in this disparate bunch of people, who become a family of sorts, a lot of what makes our lives such a chaotic of successful highs and dispiriting lows.
What Crashing makes clear is that getting life right, even a little bit at times, is never easy.
We all know that, presented as we are each day with a thousand things we want to do well but never quite manage to get as right as we expect them to, but seeing it comes alive, in the emotionally stark bonhomie of Crashing, really brings home how hard it to hit the target of perfectly-realised relationships, solid, rich and warm friendships, and satisfying work environments, and how even the best of us struggle to hit the nail on the existential anywhere near as much as we would like to.
There’s a lot to think about and feel as you watch Crashing but it is also immensely, enrapturingly funny, the kind of comedy that works so well not just because it contains brilliantly-realised comedy but because of the hard truths contained within the gags, visual and verbal and the heightened absurdity of so many of its immersively frenetic scenes.
Granted it’s not as inventive or sophisticated as Fleabag, but everything that makes anything Waller-Bridge writes, produces or acts in such a self-revelatory treat to watch is very much in evidence – great comedy, unvarnished humanity, unavoidable truths, sparkling dialogues and performances that makes us laugh even as they cause to re-evaluate what it is want from life and whether we have any chance of bringing them to fruition.