Avoiding the sophomore slump is no small feat. It’s a point of concern, always, for fans and creatives alike. But there are some who rise to the challenge to not only meet expectations but subvert them all together. After “Fleabag” delivered a near perfect first season, the stakes and expectations could not be higher for season two. Luckily, all it takes is one sly, mischievous glance from star Phoebe Waller-Bridge to put our concerns at ease. The second season of “Fleabag” perfectly builds on the rich, heartbreaking character study that Waller-Bridge created. Rather than recreate our unnamed protagonist’s past failings, the second season gives her a path to redemption. This same path might also seal her fate for good.

Season two begins with an engagement dinner that belongs at the top of the awkward dinner pantheon. Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) hasn’t talked to her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford), for six months since the events in the season one finale. They’re gathered together to discover their Dad’s (Bill Paterson) engagement to cheerfully predatory Godmother (Olivia Colman). Fleabag enters the situation having made steps to amend her naughty ways. However, her quiet, demure behavior only accelerates the family’s dysfunction. There to witness the verbal bloodshed is their new pastor (Andrew Scott). He’s not just any pastor. He swears, drinks and looks straight out of a GQ magazine. Moreso, he connects with Fleabag as they discuss their different beliefs. Fleabag knows she’s better with him around but, she fears her chaotic instincts will overrule her and destroy this latest good thing in her life.

The sharp, fast pace of the show continues to work bafflingly well. Each scene plays out on two planes simultaneously. There’s the witty reality, where Waller-Bridge loads every moment with either a punchline or a devastatingly hilarious awkward silence. Simultaneously, Fleabag breaks the fourth wall, conversing with the audience as if we’re her closest confidant. Director Harry Bradbeer knows how to place us visually within each location and make the audience a literal part of the action. Waller-Bridge makes the writing so crisp and clear, every moment lands. Not to mention her performance perfectly understands the relationship the show has built with the audience. The show involves the audience in such a way that it’s nearly impossible not to be immediately sucked back into the world of Fleabag.

Second seasons are tricky as many shows merely repeat what worked in the first time round. Not only does “Fleabag” avoid this pitfall, but the new elements to the show are the highlights of season two. What makes the second season work is the central relationship between Fleabag and the Pastor. It helps that Waller-Bridge and Scott have chemistry and tension in equal measure. Both parties are wholly attracted to each other but unable to act on their desires. This is a new boundary that Fleabag has set for herself and its particularly edifying to follow her along this difficult path of growth.

Through this storyline, the central question of faith factors heavily on the themes of the show. While Fleabag ascribes to atheism, the pastor’s optimism opens her up to the question of the afterlife and God, revising the central wounds she carries in regards to her best friend and her mother. This particular storyline demonstrates how a show can fully interrogate and challenge its central perspective in inventive and dynamic ways. As the season builds and their relationship strengthens, the show continually subverts expectations. Both characters go on a messy journey that is incredible to follow.

While the new elements of the show stand out, it doesn’t lose sight of the elements and relationships that worked in season one. The sisterly stronghold between Fleabag and Claire remains as complex, prickly and occasionally warm. Clifford and Waller-Bridge have fashioned an eccentric bond that is easily communicated through rich, unspoken glances. They lob insults, passive-aggressive digs and personalized traumas at each other like an emotionally scarred tennis match, but neither actress ever loses sight of the love at the core of their bond. This love makes the highs even higher but the silences and insults cut much deeper.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge must’ve known that Olivia Colman was going to win the Oscar this year. Every line she gives Godmother seems designed to be the perfect victory lap for Olivia Colman. Her performance is perhaps one of the funniest on TV this year. If there were any justice, she would have an Emmy this September to compliment her Oscar. Colman injects every line, fluttering movement and festive flower headdress with politely sardonic quips.

Season Two has more tricks up its sleeve with each of its six episodes. Guest stars Kristen Scott-Thomas and Fiona Shaw steal scenes, while also fitting squarely within Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s specific vision. The whole show congeals smoothly, playing like the shortest, breeziest three-hour movie ever. Prepare to binge “Fleabag” in one sitting. Once you get your first taste, you won’t be able to stop.

“Fleabag” Season Two Premieres on Amazon Prime on Friday, May 17th.

GRADE: (★)

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