Why Phoebe Waller-Bridge Is One of the Best Writers Working Today

     July 29, 2019

Phoebe Waller-Bridge has an extraordinary list of accomplishments already under her belt. She’s an actress, writer, producer, showrunner, and now a three-time Emmy nominee. Her star power has skyrocketed over the years and she’s become an instantly-lovable and sought-after presence in Hollywood. Following the success of two critically-acclaimed shows, her career continues to flourish as she was also recently brought on to help polish the script for the latest installment in one of the biggest film franchises in the world: James Bond. She’s an unstoppable force that’s fully prepared to flip the industry on its head, all while rocking an irresistible black jumpsuit (never underestimate the power of a jumpsuit).

This year’s Emmy nominations saw Waller-Bridge receiving nods for her writing and acting as the bereaved, reluctantly vulnerable, and strikingly funny character, Fleabag, from which the series is named after. In total, Fleabag Season 2 picked up 11 nominations, including for Olivia Colman and Sian Clifford in their supporting roles as Fleabag’s step-mother and sister, respectively, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Fiona Shaw for their guest starring roles, along with a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series. Waller-Bridge’s other female-led espionage series, Killing Eve, nabbed 9 nominations as well, which included Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer for their leading roles as Eve and Villanelle, respectively, a second nomination for Fiona Shaw for her supporting role as Carolyn Martins, and an overall nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. Killing Eve was quick to find its audience when Season 1 debuted on BBC America in 2018, whereas Fleabag took some time following its Amazon Prime/BBC Three debut in 2016. But, the success of the former is what encouraged people to unearth the latter from the hidden corners of Amazon Prime, and the rest is history.

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Image via Amazon

What was it about these shows that drew in such massive viewership, though? Truth be told, Waller-Bridge has a style of writing that’s not only unique, but provides a fresh, female-driven form of storytelling that’s a true rarity. Not only does the fast-paced comedic timing make for an easy and enticing watch, but her dialogue is snappy, loaded with a mischievous wit that whirls past you in quick succession with its narrative beats, impressively managing not to lose its footing. More importantly, the characters she creates feel real, flawed in a multitude of ways, yet still likable to an audience. They’re sexually and emotionally honest without feeling the need to apologize for it — a rare thing to see in female-led stories.

There’s an aura to her storytelling that’s rooted in sincerity and the need to be transparent about her characters’ reality. Her fourth wall breaks throughout Fleabag’s narrative not only serve as an immersive aspect to further involve the audience, but it allows them to see all of the character’s flaws. Season 1 lifted the veil on the truth behind her actions and placed her in a vulnerable position, despite her using comedy as a mask to avoid confrontation. Much like with people, there’s a fear that comes with fully opening up to others, and she expresses that in her own way in the first season’s climactic finale.

But, Fleabag is unapologetically human, and knows that the audience wouldn’t be coming back for round 2 if they didn’t have some semblance of understanding. By continuing to break the fourth wall and invite the audience into her world throughout Season 2, there’s a sense of comfort as she allows viewers to see both the good and the bad, welcoming them in with a newfound confidence. She hits the ground running from the get go as the audience watches her wipe a bloody nose before turning to the camera to say, “this is a love story.” For viewers who have already watched Season 1, they don’t need context for this situation right off the bat, and she knows that they’re aware of that. It’s why she tosses the viewer immediately into an unexplainable situation, it’s inexplicably her.

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Image via BBC America

The same complex character development can be seen in both Eve and Villanelle’s obsessive nature in Killing Eve. In Season 1, as she explains Villanelle’s appearance to a forensic artist, Eve drifts off into a world of fascination for the assassin. She explains, “her eyes are cat-like, wide but alert… her lips are full, she has a long neck, high cheekbones, skin is smooth and bright, she had a lost look in her eye, both direct and chilling. She’s totally focused, yet almost entirely inaccessible.” This, accompanied by Sandra Oh’s brilliant acting, is a great example of Eve’s nuanced personality. She knows what her overall task is, but can’t hide her fixation with Villanelle. It also highlights the kind of character that Waller-Bridge revels in. Much like Fleabag, Eve is unapologetically human.

This is one of the many reasons as to why Waller-Bridge is in such high demand. Hollywood has a strange fear about portraying women in an unrefined and imperfect light. Though there are many shows actively working to change this, Waller-Bridge’s style has opened a floodgate of ideas as to how thrilling it can be to portray everyday women in their lives. They may not have dragons, zombies, or a murder lingering over their heads, but they’re women navigating the varied emotions and experiences of life in a way that people can relate to, and having that narrative be recognized by the Television Academy is a major leap for female-led stories.

She was also recently brought onto the production of Bond 25 to help polish and punch up the script. This is a major move for a franchise that’s been primarily male-dominated during its run (Waller-Bridge is only the second woman in Bond history to be credited on a script; the first was Johanna Harwood for the first two entries, Dr. No in 1962 and From Russia with Love in 1963). Her addition is one that will hopefully breathe new (and much-needed) life into the women within the Bond universe, helping to avoid the exhausted damsel-in-distress cliche. She’s explained that she’s by no means coming in to change the character of James Bond, (as his suave, womanizing ways is one of the more distinct aspects of his personality) but to make sure the women are treated properly. This comment is key for Hollywood moving forward, and for society’s understanding of what progression in this industry looks like. Not only will it help to evolve the Bond franchise, but it will bode well for their future, especially with Lashana Lynch becoming the next 007.

Waller-Bridge is actively trying to change the industry’s way of thinking. She gloriously looks towards what’s possible in the future, boldly bringing new characters and ideas to the table that are proving to be a refreshing and a welcome change of pace. She’s also showing the industry that there are an abundance of original stories to be told, not just from women, but from a variety of underrepresented creators in the industry. People want to see more of these unabashedly human stories, and the smashing success of Fleabag and Killing Eve are proof that Waller-Bridge is paving a refreshingly imperfect way forward.

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