Phoebe Waller-Bridge is having a great year. Fresh off the second season of her acclaimed show Fleabag, the writer / actor / producer inked a blockbuster deal with Amazon Prime Video in September. She’s emerged at the end of 2019 as one of the biggest names in TV, having worked on the script for the upcoming James Bond film, started on a brand-new HBO show, hosted Saturday Night Live, and won big at the Emmys for Fleabag.
Fleabag, in which Waller-Bridge plays the title character, is based on a play she wrote and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013. Season 1 premiered in 2016, but the show practically went viral when the second season came out this summer. It was praised from start to finish for its brilliance and charm. The confessional, fourth-wall-breaking comedic drama centers on a woman navigating her life through personal relationships, crises, and tragedy, sandwiched between truly genius twists along the way.
Fleabag isn’t just good writing and storytelling — it’s a show that resonates and connects with its audience. It can be painfully embarrassing at times, yet still irresistible to watch. And even at its most hyperbolic and cringeworthy moments, it still manages to feel real. It’s unflinching and fearless in its honesty and willingness to show Fleabag’s vulnerability. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s layered, it’s raw, it’s genuine.
One of Waller-Bridge’s big moments came during this year’s Emmy Awards, where Fleabag won for Outstanding Comedy Series, and Waller-Bridge won for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. (The show also won an additional three Emmys.) And as Waller-Bridge does not plan to write additional seasons of Fleabag, the series went out on an appropriately high note.
Then there’s Waller-Bridge’s other TV project, Killing Eve. It would be hard to find a more diametrically opposed show to Fleabag. Killing Eve, now on its sophomore season as well, is a smart spy thriller, revolutionary in its choice to use a female-led cast for a show that’s in a historically male-dominated genre. It tails an assassin wreaking havoc in Europe and the government agent tracking her down.
For the show’s first season, Waller-Bridge served as a writer and showrunner, adapting Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle novel for the screen. It was a change for the comedy writer, but she turned out to be the right fit for the series. Waller-Bridge brilliantly infused its first season with humor — something else that’s often lacking in the genre. She worked as executive producer on season 2, which continued to garner approval from critics and won multiple awards this year, including the BAFTA for Best Drama Series. Audiences had a less than favorable reaction to the show’s second season, but many felt that the disappointment stemmed from missing Waller-Bridge’s writing — showing how much influence she had in shaping the show.
Waller-Bridge had an outstanding awards season with both shows, but her Emmys sweep was quickly upstaged days later by an even bigger victory: a multimillion-dollar Amazon deal to make new exclusive content for Prime Video. Variety reports that the deal is valued at around $20 million a year. Waller-Bridge’s deal is a win for Amazon, having snagged one of the biggest and brightest names in television right now.
Her rise was monumental in a decade where there have been increasing conversations surrounding representation in film and TV. There are few female writers and producers that can be called household names, yet Waller-Bridge achieved success on such a large scale and with projects that centered a diverse group of women. These shows allowed female characters to be flawed and vulnerable — showed them as real, three-dimensional people — giving us some of the most fully realized depictions of women on-screen.
And she’s set up for even bigger projects in the next decade. HBO ordered the forthcoming series Run, with Waller-Bridge acting and serving as executive producer, in March. Waller-Bridge co-wrote the forthcoming James Bond movie, No Time to Die, after Daniel Craig requested that she be brought on. And Killing Eve was picked up for a third season, in which Waller-Bridge will play her first role in the show — as a victim murdered by the show’s central assassin, Villanelle.
It’s difficult to overstate Waller-Bridge’s impact on television this year. She contributed two of 2019’s most exciting television shows, including one of the most talked-about shows of the year. These unique shows both received critical acclaim and had a cultural impact, showing that there’s space for new and different stories in television. Waller-Bridge’s achievements are like Fleabag’s twists: surprising at first, until you realize everything was pointing toward them all along.
Correction: Waller-Bridge performed her play Fleabag at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. An earlier version of this article previously stated she performed it at the Edinburgh Film Festival.