It's no surprise that a cop movie like Lethal Weapon got salvaged from the cinema freezer and replated as a new prime-time action show or that three NCIS teams arrive to solve crimes each fall. New ideas are hard.
Credit: BBC AmericaAt least there's one recent show that makes new ideas look easy. It's called Killing Eve.
What’s Killing Eve about
To tell you about this eight-episode AMC show (originally produced by BBC America) without giving away the grisly details is a challenge, but I can tell you this:
Villanelle is the name of a 20-something Frenchy-British woman (her accent is intentionally polyglot, so it's hard to say for sure). She's charming, brash, smart, well-dressed and devastatingly capable. Also, terrifyingly, she's a bit of a psychopath. And she likes killing people — she's your smile-as-the-light-fades-from-their-eyes kind of killer.
On the other side of this equation is a cop, but a cop like you'd never imagine. Eve Polastri was raised in the U.S. but works in London for MI5. She's far from James Bond, though. A cubicle jockey, Eve does the kind of grunt work that gets done with a phone call, things like securing police escorts or tracking down errant security footage. She's smarter than the work, but she hasn't found a way to escape it.
Credit: BBC AmericaBecause we're talking about cable TV here, it should be no surprise that one of Villanelle's kills winds up on Eve's desktop.
And that's where their love affair begins.
And I do mean "love affair." But also, I don't mean "love affair." It's not an intimate love. It's not a romance. More like an obsession. And it's a lot of fun to watch play out, mostly because Jodie Comer, the British actress who co-stars as Villanelle, plays "psychopath" like Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight plays the Joker: sadistic, manipulative, intelligent, bat-shit unpredictable and somehow endearing.
Credit: BBCCredit: BBC AmericaSandra Oh from Grey's Anatomy plays Eve and slingshots the character back and forth between in-over-her-head exasperation and heroic determination, all while nailing the kind of jokey, self-conscious humor you'd find on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. That's noteworthy; the 1996 series itself launched a whole genre of shows starring self-possessed leading women. And it's easy to see how Killing Eve, a cat-mouse crime story starring two women who won't back down, is culturally connected to Buffy, a show about a strong-willed woman with superstrength.
Give the creator credit.
And speaking of willpower, credit for Killing Eve goes to showrunner Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Her first show was an Amazon project called Fleabag. The main character, played by Waller-Bridge herself, was a London woman who was the exact opposite of most female characters on TV. She's gruff, sarcastic, self-sabotaging, conflicted and deceitful. She even steals from her own parents. In short, she's a wreck of a person and is sometimes, pretty terrible. She's also comically real. And that's the point. With Fleabag, Waller-Bridge sought to tell the story of a woman at her worst, because to fail to be your best self is to be human.
Credit: BBC AmericaAs a project that explores new angles for its female characters, Fleabag was a success. And in the same vein, so is Killing Eve. Villanelle and Eve are completely fresh, original characters, and the show reveals them one illustrative moment at a time. When Eve gets her stolen suitcase back, it's filled with impeccable designer clothes and dresses from a serial killer who stalked her. What does she do? She tries the clothes on, only to find that ... she likes the way they change her. What is going on here? Is Eve trying on the darkness that's crawled out of a suitcase into her life? Or is she trying to understand what her stalker wants her to become? And why does she like it?
You'll be terrified of Villanelle, but you'll also root for her.
While Oh's portrayal of Eve earned the actress an Emmy nomination, Britain's Comer has all the fun. Playing an unpredictable psychopath, Comer hides Villanelle's real personality behind fake personas: a cheeky neighbor, smart-alec romantic interest or whiny but dutiful employee. The character goes from charming and likable to bitchy and murderous at the pull of a hair clip.
Credit: BBC AmericaIt feels like every Villanelle scene has a loaded gun on the screen, except sometimes the gun is filled with birthday confetti and other times it's shooting someone in the head. You never know what's gonna happen.
Everyone has an arc.
That chaos extends to everyone caught in Eve's and Villanelle's lives, too. No character is pinned to their archetype. MI5 bosses become subordinates to the team members they used to command. Buttoned-up Cold War-era spies turn into hedonistic wild cards. Ex-girlfriends become teammates. Calculating killers find themselves in the crosshairs of their puppets. And smart agents find themselves in situations that make them look, well, not so smart.
And that's the magic of Killing Eve. It's completely unpredictable, and that makes for some really fun TV. It's smart, funny and irreverent to boot.
What the critics are saying
Killing Eve's first season notched a 97 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. The score on Metacritic was a lower 83. Variety's Maureen Ryan praised the show for its ability to keep the story grounded, even as Eve and Villanelle jet off to Berlin, Moscow or the British countryside. "One of the most entertaining aspects of 'Killing Eve' is how it continually brings Eve back down to Earth in believable, mundane ways (there's a goofy, suspenseful sequence in a twee English village, and one key clue revolves around Polish slang for breast size)."
Credit: BBC AmericaOther critics point out that the show's attempts to switch back and forth between drama and comedy is sometimes awkward.
Inkoo Kang of Vulture pointed out one example that struck me as out of place, too. In a fight between Eve and Niko (her husband), things turn emotionally volatile. The scene comes out of the blue for two characters who, though distant, don't seem confrontational. The result, as Kang points out, feels forced. "Eve's violence is simply abhorrent. … My neck hurts from the tonal whiplash."
Killing Eve has a few sudden, knife-quick turns similar to that. But they revolve around minor characters and don't usually slow down the show's main story.
How to Watch
Now for the bad news. Right now, Killing Eve isn't available on streaming packages like Netflix or Hulu. It's not a part of the free library on Amazon Prime either. You can, however, watch it on-demand on cable or a cable-streaming service like Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. You can also purchase the entire eight-episode season on Amazon Video for 20 bucks.
Most people won't want to pay extra for a TV show. But if you like your series with style, great acting, great writing and lots of surprises, you won't regret spending the price of two movie tickets on 8 hours of fantastic television.