In 2019, one man rose to the forefront of television’s crowded landscape. He became a pop culture phenomenon. He influenced papal debates on celibacy. He created a horn-storm the likes of which this world has never seen.
That man was Hot Priest.
Hot Priest, played by Andrew Scott on Amazon’s awards-show darling Fleabag, was the brainchild of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, a prodigious scribe with an uncanny ability to channel our collective fervor and unsated appetites into a sardonic Irishman of the cloth, the kind that would make our subconscious 18th century corseted lady-brain salivate over random, innocuous body parts like “arm” or “neck.”
Quite a few philosophical free-thinkers have attempted to glean the origins of our insatiable attraction to this clerical studmuffin.
Do we, as Fiona Shaw’s character bluntly tells Fleabag during a brief therapy stint, want to f*ck an actual priest or do we simply want to f*ck God? What is the hidden appeal of intimate conversations over cans of G&T, dessert puns, fox phobias, the color plum, a grown man cradling a guinea pig like it was Baby Jesus himself? How did Catholicism begin to leak into the BDSM community? Where does Piglet fit into all this?
Perhaps those questions shall remain unanswered. Perhaps we’re simply better off not knowing. But one truth simply can’t be denied: the end of this decade belonged to the Hot Priest and the career of the man who played him.
Not only is Scott influencing religious search term spikes on porn sites and indirectly persuading Pope Francis to let his collared co-workers do the horizontal mambo occasionally – c’mon, you know old Frank would be the first to appreciate the dirty humor of Waller-Bridge’s pervy sex addict - he’s also popping up in a host of other shows and films, many with fandoms nearly as rabid as Fleabag’s.
Scott’s set to play a major role in season two of HBO’s newest fantasy epic, His Dark Materials, a show that also boasts a casting sheet of Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and our national treasure, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
He delivered a tortured performance in Black Mirror’s fifth season episode “Smithereens,” portraying a cab driver who holds a passenger hostage for deeply tragic reasons. He’s nabbed the lead role in Showtime’s planned Ripley adaptation, playing the titular grifter who cons his way into an inheritance through murder and carefully crafted manipulations. He’ll be seen on the big screen in Sam Mendes visually stunning Oscar contender 1917, playing a lieutenant struggling to survive the chaos of war. And his villainous Moriarity on the BBC’s popular crime drama Sherlock, continues to remain a fan-favorite.
But it’s not just Scott’s career that’s benefitting from the mass hysteria his pious Prince Charming has induced. Fleabag swept the 2019 Emmys this year, taking home four awards including the coveted title of Outstanding Comedy Series. Scott wasn’t nominated, but that didn’t stop Waller-Bridge from recognizing his contribution to the show, saying the series’ second season wouldn’t have exploded in the way that it did if it weren’t for him. He’s gone on to gain a Golden Globe nomination – one of three for the series – and earn profiles on the way he says the word “kneel” by the New York Times; think pieces on the complexity his character affords men of faith by the likes of TV Guide; and thoughtful retrospectives on queer identity and religious prejudice by Rolling Stone.
In other words, whether you were a fan of Fleabag or not, you knew who Hot Priest was. His hotness was inescapable. His meme-able currency traded in gifs on Twitter’s timeline, his blasphemous make-out sessions in confessionals the fuel of countless erotic fanfictions, his ornate vestments the envy of every 2018 Met Gala attendee. Hot Priest defied logic and transformed our understanding, not just of saintly sex symbols – this isn’t the first or last time we’ll be lusting after religious figures – but of our shared need for compelling, relatably flawed male love interests on TV.
As Waller-Bridge explained, Hot Priest was a man who listened, truly listened and was interested in his partner’s thoughts and feelings. Some of his sexier moments were born from contemplative chats on the nature of belief, on shared nostalgia, on his dark and mysterious past and how it put his relationship with Fleabag on equal footing. He didn’t sport bulging muscles or towering , he wasn’t overly-handsome and unattainable, he didn’t spout off sentimental nonsense to fulfill some kind of fantasy, and yet, he made sinners of us all.
So yes, 2019 is the year of the Hot Priest. Kneel before his omnipotent thirst talent and rejoice.