This was the first episode of TV Talk, hosted by Mark Pellegrino, Jax Schumann and Jennifer Bouani. Each episode of TV Talk will compare a popular and/or award-winning TV show with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and the objectivist sense of life.
As a tie-in with Jax and Jennifer’s Atlas Shrugged miniseries, there’ll be a poll at the end of each episode where they get some feedback on a character, story element, or scene.
The focus of the first episode was Fleabag, the title of which Mark said might send most objectivists running for the hills — though he said the show is very, very good in a lot of ways and there’s a reason it won a billion awards (including two Golden Globes, Five Primetime Emmys, and a couple of Baftas).
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is the star of the show as well as the writer, showrunner, and executive producer. Mark thinks she’d make a great Dagny too! She does look the part; maybe he, Jax and Jennifer can make that happen!
For those who don’t know the business, Mark explained that ‘the showrunner is responsible for every creative element in the show: every word that’s written, every action line that’s filmed, everything that makes it into the frame of the picture’.
Theater is the domain of the actor, film is the director’s domain, and TV is the writer’s domain’Mark Pellegrino
Other members of the cast include award-winning actress Olivia Colman who plays the ‘passive-aggressive godmother’ and Andrew Scott who is the ‘cool priest’. For Mark’s info, he’s often referred to as the ‘hot’ priest — I guess this confusion over hot and cold is something he shares with Lucifer. Mark added that Andrew Scott was absolutely fantastic as Moriarty on Sherlock, playing opposite Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes.
Mark said a plot, which he defined as ‘a purposeful progression of logically connected events leading to a resolution or climax’ doesn’t exist, so they would talk about the logline, ‘a sentence that captures the essence of the show’ before discussing how the characters compare with Atlas Shrugged and The Strike.
Jax gave a logline (which she described as an elevator pitch for a TV show) for Fleabag: ‘Fleabag is about a dry-witted woman known only as Fleabag. She’s named in the script but she’s not named in the show. She has no filter as she navigates life and love in London while trying to cope with tragedy. This angry grief-riddled woman tries to heal while rejecting anyone who tries to help her, but Fleabag continues to keep up her bravado through it all.’
Jax added that she’s happy Fleabag is the first show for the ARCUK ‘because this is a very British show that really showcases British humor — suppression of ever saying what you really want to say in a very, very interesting and funny way’.
Jennifer gave a spoiler alert warning for both Fleabag and Atlas Shrugged (and any other show they talk about in the series)
Fleabag is very naturalistic, which Mark said is the antithesis of Ayn Rand’s romantic realism.
Mark: Fleabag is randomly confronted with personal obstacles. Every one of the main characters is randomly presented with obstacles that they confront based on where they are at that time. The obstacles that Fleabag faces initially are the breakup with the boyfriend, and an attempt to save her struggling cafe with a bank loan, trying to cope with her sister’s anxiety and contempt at her father’s inaccessibility and her brother-in-law’s lechery and alcoholism. These are all sort of day-to-day problems that a lot of people out there can relate to. It doesn’t quite measure up to the scope of an Ayn Rand epic, a purposeful motion, it seems to be a series of random events that somebody happens to confront from a particular perspective.
Jennifer: It’s important to point out that these are completely different genres though. So the dark comedy that this is, is completely different than the drama of Atlas Shrugged. So they’re going to clearly be different and be judged differently.
Mark: ‘Do objectivists have issues with naturalism?’
Jax: ‘In my experience with objectivism, the naturalism part is not as highly regarded as the heroic and idealistic kind of mood and aesthetic that you get from an Ayn Rand novel — or even Victor Hugo, or any of the real classics who make use of brilliant language. Like Shakespeare; nobody talks like Shakespeare.’
Mark: ‘Since Fleabag is done in the naturalistic style and people speak in a voice that we can understand, there’s also an interesting facet to this writing where each character has its own unique voice. Each character responds to the various things that are happening to them in their own unique way; it’s a completely character-driven piece. This is not going to turn into a critique of Atlas Shrugged, even though it seems like it right now. One of the things that bothers me, and I think other people who are not objectivists who read Atlas Shrugged, is the lack of variation in the voices — it sounds like it’s coming from the same source irrespective of who it is. I don’t feel that when I’m looking at the godmother or the cool priest or Fleabag or her sister Claire. All of these characters speak in their own unique way, and even though they all have the same problem, they approach it in different ways which I find fascinating. Now, how can you overcome this issue — if it is an issue — with The Strike? When I read your pilot one of the things that fascinated me most was how distinct each voice was.’
Jax: ‘I guess we see those distinct voices and Ayn Rand’s characters. We draw them out. That’s what we saw and so we put that on paper. I’m not really sure what you mean by they don’t have distinct voices.’
Jennifer: ‘I was going to jump in and say I think that in Atlas Shrugged the heroes speak one way and the villains speak another way.’
Jax: ‘And when you look at the heroes … (to Jennifer) you don’t think so?’
Jennifer: ‘No. Hank doesn’t speak anything like Dagny to me or Francisco. He and Francisco are completely different, but they’re all heroes.’
Jax: ‘I’m not saying that all the heroes speak exactly the same, but I’m saying there’s a distinct voice difference between heroes and villains in Atlas Shrugged. And I do think that Francisco is different than Hank is different than Galt is different than Dagny. One of the ways that I was able to really hone in on the way Dagny talks versus Eddie, and bringing that into a modern-day is the flashbacks. That’s the thing you don’t see in the movies because there just wasn’t enough time. When you get those flashbacks of Dagny running down the grass hill or trying to beat Francisco to the tree, you just get just a much better sense of who that character is. That really informed me a lot when I was working to come up with how these people speak. I do think that they have more distinct voices in Atlas Shrugged but not as distinct as you will see in something like Fleabag or Breaking Bad or most of the other popular award-winning tv shows today.’
an ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words
Mark: ‘When you see Fleabag breaking the fourth wall and revealing her inner content. You see her father unable to complete a sentence if it has to do with something emotional, and it requires a connection between the two of them which is a funny character trait. I think it’s very very interesting and insightful. As my acting teacher would say ‘an ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words’ and that tells an entire story in and of itself. The sister deals with phenomena very differently than Fleabag; she’s the opposite of impulsive. She’s the polar opposite of her sister and I think those all give us very different voices and very different characters, which is strong. I think you guys have achieved that in The Strike. I’m glad Jennifer is schooling me on the fact that it exists in the novel. I’m just not seeing it, and any objectivists who want to spank me on that: go ahead!’
Mark: ‘What’s good about Fleabag? We’re talking about a show that exists in a world of a mixed economy, in a world of mixed premises, so we’re going to get a show that’s very mixed — and there’s going to be dominant ideas in there that we’re going to disagree with, but there’s also going to be some fantastic things that make it very watchable. Let’s start with the good things.’
Jennifer: ‘Well, for one, it was hilarious. Very funny.’
Mark: ‘It’s very funny! Do you have a favorite funny scene?’
Jennifer: ‘How do I narrow it down, there are so many moments. Her way of turning to the camera, some of the moments that she picked were just superb. But I really like the whole statue storyline, stealing the statue and then it keeps showing back up. And the big surprise moment was when she opened up the award … her sister gives the award at the Women in Business. I laughed out loud.’
Jax: ‘She steals the statue from the passive-aggressive mother-in-law, this expensive statue, she tries to fence it …’
Mark: ‘Which her mother-in-law created, right, that was her statue. The godmother based it on Fleabag’s dead mother…’
Jax: ‘Which she doesn’t find out until the end. Throughout the whole thing, it’s like this running gag of where the statue is showing up.’
Jennifer: ‘Which is another thing it does really well — setups and payoffs. This is a great payoff moment, it’s supposed to be this Woman in Business big award ceremony, and here are these three top women who’ve done phenomenal jobs, and here’s the award and they pull it out and it’s the statue: headless woman big tits. It’s the complete opposite and I think the character, the Kristen Thomas Scott character, says something like ‘well a bit on the nose if it had one’. That was one of my favorite parts.’
Mark: ‘It’s very funny and irreverent, but what do you think of the kind of irreverence that it puts out there in the world? For example, for me, it pushes the boundaries of what’s private and what’s public, and it sort of exposes the contradictions between what people say and do and really think. And that’s sort of interesting, but I feel like private and public are really distinct realms. I feel like it’s not necessarily hypocrisy to be one way in public and another way in private, and I don’t think it’s necessarily irreverent to sort of flip off, mores and manners. I think real irreverence is toppling certain gods, like Rand did. I think Rand critiqued the ethics of our culture, the ethics that most people hang their hats on, and not only is trying to dismantle it but reconstruct something completely new. That’s irreverent! Irreverence to me isn’t the potty-mouth teenager who’s slightly precocious, who digs the cool priest because he curses and smokes and drinks. I mean, that to me is the kind of rebellion that the punk rocker thinks he’s doing when he colors his hair blue and puts a piercing through his nose; he’s changed nothing essential in him. What do you think of this I don’t know if that’s even an answerable question. Do you agree with me on this idea that people would probably call this show irreverent? Is it irreverent in all the right ways or is it youngish irreverent?’
Jax: ‘I think it could be considered irreverent, especially season two, when she falls for a priest and really wants to sleep with him. Sort of fights it at first, but then keeps breaking the wall to us and telling us oh yeah this is going to happen. I think most non-objectivists, or even just non-religious people, would mostly look at that like atheists will look at that and maybe won’t think that that is irreverent but I think that’s very close to being irreverent in terms of what Fleabag does. Things like lying and cheating and stealing.’
Mark: ‘Let me clarify. By kid irreverent, I mean nihilistic. It’s nihilistic to look at a priest and say ‘I’m gonna bang that guy’ because there’s a lot of things you’re overturning in the process of that and to and to be unaware of that or not care about that, because your appetite to be satisfied in that moment means more. That’s very significant, that’s very nihilistic, right? I mean it’s a kid’s nihilism, an adult’s way of looking at the world. But what other great things do you think there are? So it’s very funny — this is true folks, if you watch it there will be many moments where you might find yourself laughing out loud. Some of them you’ll wonder why you’re laughing out loud, but you will find yourself laughing.’
Jax: ‘I think the acting is brilliant. There was not a single actor that I didn’t believe, that didn’t bring me into their world. I also think that the arcs for the characters, for the main characters, were really well done. I gotta say, the first couple of episodes that I watched, I was like, I gotta watch this whole freaking series? I mean, she’s funny, but I was like, this has to be going someplace, and eventually, it does. It does get there. I think that we all have varying opinions on the degree to which it got there. For me, it got there because what I found was I really started identifying with this character. There were some moments… I don’t want to jump too far ahead… when she’s in the confessional, and when she is just having this just open heart moment confessing what she struggles with in life. I just so identified with that, and I thought that was really, really well done. I think they had a really intelligent use of music. I don’t know if that’s something that you wanted to talk about, Jennifer.’
Jennifer: ‘I didn’t even notice the music in season one, but in season two it became completely different. It went from punk heavy metal to catholic organ church music. I began to think well that must be how she’s feeling about the priest, but it’s tied in with that because she started going to the church. You would hear it not just when the priest was in the scenes, but all throughout that season. I think she heard it in the kitchen when her sister was breaking up with her brother-in-law. It was a symbolism of her changing. I felt like we were hearing her internal thoughts and music.’
Mark: ‘She was definitely on a spiritual course, a much higher course than the chaotic one she was on before. What I like about the script — in particular, this relates to the arc, the arcs of all the characters — is that all the characters are going through the same type of thing in their own way. Would you guys agree with that; they’re all evading. They’re all evading something. And it seems like their arc is in the confrontation with the thing that they’re evading. And with Fleabag, she is evading her responsibility in the death of her best friend. Her father is evading the fact that he transitioned to another woman extremely quickly after the death of the mom, and dumped the kids, and left them on their own, and he feels guilty about that and can’t confront it. The sister is evading the horror of her married life to a creep, and to his creepy stepson, and to the fact that she’s not self-actualizing. She’s not going for the jobs that she thinks are great, or even pursuing the men that she really loves, and that their turnaround comes when they all at some point, not by any seemingly directed means (which I think a plot would take us to that end), but by a confluence of forces. They end up confronting their realities and transforming as people.’
Jax: ‘Not only are they evading, but I think they are suppressing. Fleabag is suppressing and dealing in very unhealthy ways with the guilt that she feels, and grief. Grief over her mother dying. Grief over the unfortunate suicide of her best friend and roommate, who effectively was her sister. And guilt over how that suicide came about.’
Mark: ‘Here’s a major spoiler guys… because she did sleep with her best friend’s lover, whom her best friend loved more than anything in the world, and there is really no explanation as to why that happened. I don’t know that we need one. Do we need one? I guess to know if she’s truly transformed, it would be a good idea to know that.’
Jax: ‘I wanted to know why she did that because that was part of what was missing for me. They decided not to go to a season three. Phoebe Willow-Bridge decided not to have a season three because her story ended where it ended, but I think there should have been a middle season between season one and season two. I do want to know why was she just an asshole. Was she just born an asshole? That’s not something a person normally does. This is something that we’ll be talking about with Breaking Bad. A terrible decision that somebody makes isn’t like that. You know what, I’m gonna sleep with my best friend, the person who I value the most in life, right? From an objectivist point of view, this is the person who I value the most in life — I’m gonna sleep with her boyfriend and totally fuck that up. Where did that come from? That wouldn’t have just been from grief from her mother dying, because that’s just not something a normal person would do.’
Jennifer: ‘So there were a lot of holes left in that that could have been explained in a middle season for sure.’
To be continued…
We’re about halfway through (25 minutes into a 25-minute show…). Part Two will follow on Tuesday.
This is not an exact transcript — I’ve made a few edits while changing speech to written form. Watch the video if you want the quotes verbatim. And, yes, I switched style partway through. I’ll edit for consistency when I am more familiar with the format of TV Talk.