Phoebe Waller-Bridge had two TV series premiere in 2016: Fleabag and Crashing. One saw her showered in Emmys and Baftas and Golden Globes. It established the British playwright and Fringe favourite as a Hollywood heavy hitter. The other … you probably haven’t heard of before now.
Crashing only had one season and it never got great exposure in Australia. But the short, bingeable show is now on Netflix and, with a week-long wait between new episodes of Killing Eve, this is a perfect time for PWB fans to catch up.
Crashing follows a group of twentysomethings who live in a disused London hospital as property guardians: an arrangement that allows people to cheaply rent empty and often dilapidated buildings. They’re “not squatters”, as Kate, the most uptight resident, likes to defensively remind everyone.
The series opens as ukulele-playing free spirit Lulu (Waller-Bridge) travels to surprise her childhood friend Anthony. Anthony is engaged to Kate: a woman who looks a lot like Lulu but is her exact opposite. She’s kind, but “anal” and awkward despite her best efforts. The first episode ends with her wielding Lulu’s ukulele, while pouring tequila on the floor and screaming “I’m the fun one!!!” to a group of bewildered partygoers.
On the surface, there’s nothing that new or exciting about Crashing. It’s an ensemble comedy about the love and sex lives of a group of mostly white millennials in a big city. I mean, it’s nice to see a realistic portrayal of the depressing London real estate market – on release, Crashing was called “a generation-rent Friends for austerity Britain” – but the appeal of the show is all in Waller-Bridge’s writing.
Like Fleabag, Crashing is sharp and darkly funny. It’s bursting with sad and self-conscious people awkwardly grappling for a connection. Colin, a depressed middle-aged divorcee, is taken into the house by Melody, a young French artist who paints his pain. Another property guardian, Sam, struggles to mourn the death of his dad and instead sleazes on to women. When he starts having feelings for a male flatmate, he lashes out with laddish homophobia.
This cocktail of sex, grief and deflection is found in Fleabag too – and it’s not the only overlap between the two shows. Kate would definitely get along with Fleabag’s sister, Claire. Lulu, like Fleabag, is a “vulnerable rascal” who’s flailing around with her own issues and often hurting people in the process. And the relationship between Lulu and Anthony has some shades of Hot Priest.
Andrew Scott’s priest is a much richer and more satisfying character, but Anthony is Irish and forbidden (albeit not by divine providence). And the sexual tension between Lulu and Anthony is similar too: it’s all smiles and teasing and blunt truths. That alone makes the show worth watching.
In the end, it makes sense that it was Fleabag that launched Waller-Bridge’s international career. It’s a more complex creation, and its first season left more space to grow. But Crashing has a familiar, ragged charm that’s comforting right now.
At a time when everyone’s grappling for their own connections, it feels like catching up with a fun old friend.
• Crashing is streaming on Netflix Australia