But somewhere in the past couple of years, women began to take the put-down back. And why shouldn’t they? After all, nobody’s perfect.
That’s not to say until recently all female characters portrayed on-screen were without flaws. They weren’t. But weren’t most of their flaws sort of cutesy or endearing? (Think Phoebe Buffay’s quirkiness on Friends or Jessica Day’s klutziness on New Girl.)
Suddenly, “hot messes” were no longer to be pitied or laughed at. Instead, they were free to just, well, be. Bridget Jones led the pack (she cursed, smoked and always said the wrong thing) and paved the way for Kristen Wiig’s character in 2011’s Bridesmaids, Amy Schumer’s sketch show Inside Amy Schumer (2013) and Issa Rae’s Insecure (2016). A special nod goes to Broad City, one of the best examples of a show that just let female protagonists be who they are without judgment. These women are complicated, funny, slightly unhinged, independent and—most important—real.
Is the term perfect? Well, no. It’s not as inclusive as it should be (it appears to be largely reserved for people of a certain age, gender and race). And while the women mentioned above are undeniably fierce in their disarray, other recent “hot messes” haven’t fared as well.
Take, for example, Hannah Horvath in HBO’s Girls. Heck, take any of the four protagonists from the show. These 20-somethings were highly unsympathetic characters who felt entitled to everything despite having done nothing. Does this empowered spin on being a train wreck only apply to women in comedic roles? Perhaps.
Or is it the unpredictability of these women that makes them so relatable and even likable? Or maybe it’s their refreshing disregard not just for social expectation but also for conventional storytelling? One of the standout moments of Fleabag was witnessing the breaking of the fourth wall (“Where did you just go?” asks the Hot Priest.) These women are challenging stereotypes in all sorts of ways, and it makes for highly compelling viewing.
It’s thanks to these trailblazers that, in 2020, being a “hot mess’ is being a whole, realized person—complete with faults and surprises. And Fleabag exemplifies this with humor, style and brilliance.
It’s undeniably empowering to see complex women (warts and all) unapologetically being themselves on-screen. To that end, the only real issue with Fleabag is that the show is over and we won’t be seeing any more of her.