Fleabag and Heidi Pies
Fleabag's creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge (photo courtesy of Amazon/BBC, PR)
In this weekly WFUV feature, our staffers pick a trio of their current personal faves that we think you might want to check out too. "UKNY" host Kara Manning marvels over Phoebe Waller-Bridge's "Fleabag," is smitten with the music of Australia-based poet and rapper Sampa the Great, and has a jetlag remedy upon arriving in London.
It's not hyperbole to call Phoebe Waller-Bridge's "Fleabag" the most perfectly executed television series to ever air. It is a marvel of creative architecture, empathy, intelligence and wit. If you've not seen it (or hastily judged it based on Season One's first two episodes, which slyly lead you down one path before expertly swerving, elucidating the show's more profound calling), you're missing out on the most stirring, emotionally riveting, gorgeously written, and deeply insightful not-quite six hours of television ever produced. Frankly, I'll sling every superlative adjective I can conjure at the genius Waller-Bridge, the impeccable cast, director Harry Bradbeer, editor Gary Dollner and everyone else involved with the program's glowing existence.
The Amazon Prime/BBC comedy/drama and savvy deconstruction of one (unnamed) woman's collapsing (and then resurrected) inner life was built from Waller-Bridge's one-woman stage play which first debuted at Edinburgh's Fringe Festival in 2013, directed by her longtime colleague Vicky Jones (the play has been revived on the West End this summer, for a limited farewell run).
"Fleabag" demolishes the fourth wall, involving its audience in a way that few television programs ever have: With just a sly glance, raised eyebrow, or grimace, Waller-Bridge, the creator, writer and star, expertly utilizes the audience as confidante, Greek chorus, or meddlesome tag-along. We are woven into Fleabag's narrative; she makes us laugh out loud and barely three minutes later, dissolve into tears. She also, eventually, realizes that we are a liability. While Season One swaggered with equal parts devastating wit and gut-punch revelations — guided by a breathtakingly good cast that includes Oscar-winner Olivia Colman, the brilliant Sian Clifford, and an adroitly repulsive Brett Gelman — it's Season Two that vaults "Fleabag" to swooning perfection.
The addition of the always-compelling Andrew Scott as the complex "hot priest," Fiona Shaw as a therapist (her one scene with Waller-Bridge is hilarious and heartbreaking), and Kristin Scott Thomas as a successful (and weary) businesswoman, who expounds upon the liberty and limitations of middle age, expands the story in unexpected ways. (In fact, Waller-Bridge never intended on writing a Season Two; it was only a concrete story and the recruitment of Scott that changed that decision.)
Fleabag's arc touches on spirituality, grief, forgiveness, loneliness, sexuality, the fragility of relationships, love, misogyny, familial bonds, feminism and so much more in such a metaphoric and euphoric way, like a great novel. In fact, Waller-Bridge's show will be discussed and studied like groundbreaking literature or cinema, preferably on chatty Wednesdays over spilt tea or canned gin and tonics from M&S. (And so much for foxes and hedgehogs; you'll never eye foxes and guinea pigs in the same way again.)
Sampa the Great
Two years ago, the Zambian-born, Botswana-raised, now Australia-based songwriter, rapper and poet Sampa Tembo, who records as Sampa the Great, released an arresting mixtape called Birds and the Bee9. The mystical, fecund "Bye River," found on that release, was not only one of standout tracks of 2017, but it succinctly heralded all that Tembo promised: a vibrant political and feminist stance, an effortless and adventurous flow, and an essential perspective on gender and race in conflict with misogyny and reprehensible ideologies. Last year's "Energy," featuring Nadeem Din-Gabasi, was another revelation. Like the luminous Lizzo, Little Simz, H.E.R., and Rapsody, Tembo astutely assesses these very uneasy era. Her debut album, The Return, is released via Ninja Tune on September 13 and it's a beacon of confidence and resistance. (Anyone complaining about a lack of "protest songs" needs to listen more closely to women.) Sampa the Great's singles thus far from The Return, like "Final Form," "Freedom" and "OMG," are triumphant anthems of black, female, and artistic power and they're essential — find this album the moment it comes out.
Pieminister's Heidi Pies at Borough Market
Every time I arrive in London in the early morning — jetlagged out of my gourd, but struggling to stay awake to adapt to UK time swiftly— I have my foolproof routine for getting through a day on virtually no sleep.
I dump my luggage at my friend's flat, take a blurry hour-long nap, shower, dress and then head to Borough Market, near London Bridge, one of my absolute favorite spots on earth. Everything about Borough Market makes me happy — the heady, decadent spread of vegetables at Elsey & Bent, the ornate elephant biscuits from the Cinnamon Tree Bakery that are almost too pretty to eat, and the enormous wedges and wheels of cheese at Neal's Yard Dairy (especially the gorgeously stinky Gubbeen from Cork).
Best of all, I treat myself to a delicious Heidi Pie from the outdoor Pieminister stand — a veg pie made with goat cheese, sweet potato and spinach — eaten either plain or slathered in piping hot vegetarian gravy (don't forget the mushy peas and mash!). At Borough Market, there's no place to comfortably sit if you buy lunch from a stand, so most folks try to figure out a place around the side perimeters of the Market, leaning awkwardly against walls like starved flamingos, or crouched on the pavement. Trust me, balancing a hot veg pie with gravy and mash in mid-air on a drizzly November day isn't easy, but worth the effort.
A long time ago, you used to be able to sit in the garden area around neighboring Southwark Cathedral, but no longer: a combination of too many littering tourists and security concerns (especially following the tragic June 2017 attack on London Bridge and the market) eliminated that option. Borough Market has been around since 1014 (really) and it's quintessential London: resilient, comforting, communal, and a diverse intersection of rural and urban Britain and the world. It's also magical.
Kara Manning's "UKNY" airs on 90.7 WFUV every Sunday night from 11pm-midnight, focusing on new British and international releases.