David Phillips gives us the only reason you need to be watching the hot new show from BBC America, Killing Eve. It is better than Oxygen.
I don’t know if you are one of those people who questions it when a new movie or show gets overly effusive reviews. You know, the kind that suggests if you had a choice between oxygen and this raved over program, you’d have to think about it for a spell.
I kind of do. I mean, the only way is down when your expectations are set that high, right? So, I resisted Killing Eve when it first came out. I know, I know, BBC America puts out a fair amount of good work. You couldn’t find anyone who had a bad word to say about it, and one of my best friends looked at me like I had a third eye when I told him I had it loaded up on my DVR, but I hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
Well, to quote the not all that legendary band Toad the Wet Sprocket, “I am feeling really stupid now.”
Because from the first second of Killing Eve, with the revelatory Jodi Comer sitting in a diner, getting up, walking out, and with wicked joie de vivre, dumping a little girl’s ice cream into her shirt for no other reason than looking just a bit too happy, I was hooked.
Describing Killing Eve only does it so much justice. I’ve seen it spoken of as a cat and mouse thriller with Sandra Oh’s MI5 operative matching wits with Comer’s Russian assassin Villanelle. That is certainly true. The trouble is the basic set up makes it sound like something you may think you’ve seen before.
Trust me, you haven’t.
For one, I have never seen a character quite like Villanelle. She’s a cheerful sociopath and a true eccentric. When asked if she likes music, she replies “I like national anthems.” She’s not joking. At one point, she pouts at her handler when he dangles a target at her but refrains from assigning her the mission. Why is she so disappointed? Because the mark is an asthmatic. And as she tells the handler “You know I like the breathy ones.”
She is deeply, and uniquely weird. She dresses often in costume. I mean, like stuff you would put on to go to a Versace runway show if you were trying to outshine the models. Seriously, the pink frilly thing she wears in episode two would make an Olympic ice dancer blush.
She’s no joke though. She balances her odd, and frequently icily hilarious, demeanor by being convincingly lethal in every way. She’s both funny and terrifying. What she’s doing here has to be seen to be believed. There’s a long history of colorful murderous types on television and film. That’s nothing new. It’s the way Comer does it though. This is one hell of a way to announce your presence with authority. If Comer does not become a major star, I’m going to be astonished.
If she were the show’s only selling point, it would be more than enough to give one a reason to tune in every week. What’s wonderful is how well-matched she is by Sandra Oh. And let me just say, after two hundred and six years (or whatever) on Grey’s Anatomy, it is fabulous to see her find a role worthy of her talents.
As a mid-level MI5 operative, Oh is given her own peculiarities as well. She’s good at her job, but not being fully taken advantage of by her superiors. In particular, her one special skill that comes in handy when it comes to tracking Villanelle. An obsession with female serial killers and assassins.
In short order, she gets beyond her station and is fired for working up info on the side and stepping out of her lane in effort to uncover Villanelle. This leads to her firing, and recruitment by an ever-droll Fiona Shaw onto a secret team where she can indulge her compulsion. When asked about her fixation on female killers, an embarrassed Eve fumbles to explain and then simply blurts out “I’m a fan!”
You may have grasped this by now but let me make it plain. Killing Eve is a weird show. What is it? A black comedy? A spy vs. spy thriller? Half a satire? Something altogether ‘other’? The answer is yes to all of the preceding.
It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. There is some sort of flare in nearly every scene. The creative and colorful over-sized title cards that burst onto the screen. The gorgeous, old world Parisian buildings. The vibrant direction. Throw in the tremendous work by the two leads, the rapier sharp dialogue, and the off-kilter kinetic vibe, and you have a rare treat. A show that is both outlandishly entertaining, and in no way pandering or too eager to please.
Killing Eve knocked me backward and embarrassed me. Who knows what the hell I was waiting for? So please, don’t be me. Do not tarry. Watch Killing Eve. You can thank me later. Most likely during the first two minutes of that opening scene in the diner. As Villanelle smirks on her way out the door after soiling the little girl’s shirt with her dessert, you’re going to think, possibly below your breath, maybe so imperceptibly that you don’t even know you are doing it, “That guy from Awards Daily was not half-stepping. Killing Eve is better than oxygen.”