Over the past three years, I have lost dozens of friends to the cult of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. One day, they’ve never heard of her, and the next, they’ve seen every episode of Fleabag at least three times and have purchased backless black jumpsuits with chest cutouts. Their tweets become incomprehensible to those on the outside and all conversation with them somehow leads back to the “Hot Priest.” For years I resisted, but about a month ago, I binged the entire show in a matter of days and became a jumpsuit-purchasing member of the Family. Canned gin and tonic is my god now. But even if I hadn’t already bought my habit, Waller-Bridge’s opening monologue on SNL’s second episode of the season might have turned me.
Her monologue condenses everything that feels so genuine and original about the show into just a few minutes. On Fleabag and in real-life, Waller-Bridge has a “most popular girl in prep school” swagger that is incredibly appealing and also pretty rare in a character we’re supposed to root for. There is none of the performative humility so often thought to be essential for creating a “likable” women main character. Waller-Bridge’s SNL monologue also delivers that same subversion of expectation.
“I’m from the UK,” Waller-Bridge begins, “which means I find everything embarrassing.” She then proceeds to tidily upend that stereotype by finishing the thought with, “standing in front of a jazz band in high heels on live television joking about my accomplishments...actually that sounds pretty fun.”
Fleabag began as a monologue Waller-Bridge wrote about a cafe owner with “a perspective on sex that is kind of hard and detached.” It is easy to see bits of that persona in her SNL monologue, which comes off as much more carefully planned and executed than many of the self-conscious and sometimes cringe-worthy monologues of SNL’s past. Waller-Bridge jokingly confesses she might be a psychopath, makes fun of the current “witch hunt” narrative that so many men parrot in the Me Too era, champions women’s horniness, and makes ample time for the audience to applaud her newly-won Emmys. All in five minutes.
But apart from the monologue, few of the skits on last night’s episode really seemed to capitalize on the confident-yet-messy characters Waller-Bridge has created both in her show and in her public image. There were some funny sketches, but the monologue may have been the best of the night, which is not an SNL opinion I can say I’ve ever held before.
The episode included another “War in Words” sketch, riffing on a standout from last year’s episode featuring Claire Foy.
The “Love Island” sketch was simply a pretty accurate look at everything that is so right and wrong with the show. However, “Watch the hottest people from the worst towns immediately couple up with someone based on nothing” should be the show’s new tagline.
Batshit midnight sketches that seem thrown together at three a.m. Friday morning are my favorite genre of SNL skit. “Buddy’s” was a good one, if only for the bad accents and the fact that no one can keep it together despite nothing about this being funny.
After Fleabag won six Emmy’s, it was announced that Waller-Bridge had signed a $20 million a year deal to create and produce more content for Amazon, so the cult is probably about to get very crowded.