'Killing Eve' Review: The Pace of 'Justified,' the Wit of 'Sherlock,' and the Perversity of 'Fleabag'
There’s a lot going on Sunday nights right now with Westworld, Fear the Walking Dead, Homeland, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Silicon Valley and Barry (among others), but there is no show at the moment better than BBC America’s Killing Eve. It’s a serial killer drama, but it’s not bleak or “atmospheric.” It’s bursting with personality. It has a dark sense of humor, great characters, a lively plot, and it’s engaging as hell. It’s nothing like Justified, but in a way, it reminds me of the best seasons of that show, where every episode ends with viewers yearning for more, certain that a full hour could not have possibly already passed.
Over on Vulture this week, Kathryn VanArendonk has a great piece up on how “overly long episodes are the manspreading of TV,” using Westworld and Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy, among others, as examples. I wish I’d thought to write that piece because all of the things she writes about were on my mind while watching the Killing Eve premiere, but only because the Sandra Oh drama is so totally the opposite of manspreading. For a TV show like Westworld (which I really like) or The Walking Dead (which I tolerate) to add 15 or 20 minutes of flab to each episode feels presumptuous, as though they think that they are more worthy of our attention than other shows. I really and truly love The Americans, but there are times when it doesn’t feel necessary to watch Philip stare off into space in his kitchen for 45 seconds, or spend five minutes watching a sequence that’s too goddamn dark to see. There are 900 shows on TV and too many showrunners think they are so good at what they do that we will happily spend an extra half hour with their “prestige drama” instead of rewatching an episode of Parks and Recreation. As VanArendonk writes, “It’s time to see TV manspreading for what it is —- self-indulgent, gratuitous, and often actively detrimental to telling a good story.”
It’s one of the reasons I loved Everything Sucks! so much: Tight, funny, heartfelt 22-minute episodes. It gets in, gets out, says what it needs to say, and goes home. Killing Eve is that, but for dramas. It doesn’t bore us with padding. It’s not trying to stretch itself into an hour. It’s fast-paced and electric.
Killing Eve — from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the genius creator and star behind the phenomenal Fleabag — is based on the novellas by Luke Jennings. It stars Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri. Her obsession with a string of killings she believes are orchestrated by the same woman inadvertently lands her a job as an agent for MI:6, tracking an assassin by the name of Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Villanelle is likewise obsessed with her job, and unlike Bill Hader’s Barry, she takes immense satisfaction in killing and doing so in increasingly flashy, creative and gruesome ways (while crushing a man’s balls, for instance). It’s not that she wants to get caught — she clearly does not — but she wants to be known. In fact, she loves the attention that Eve’s investigation brings so much that she ultimately finds herself tracking her tracker.
Killing Eve, however, eschews the trappings of a typical serial killer drama. There aren’t a lot of crime scene investigations. It’s not about piecing together evidence; it’s about getting into each other’s minds. It’s about two obsessive women who are incredibly good at their jobs compiling psychological profiles on one other and trying to outwit their adversary.
If I were trying to draw comparisons, the crackling wit and faster pace of Sherlock’s early seasons might be apt here, only it’s more darkly funny and faster-paced, and its sense of humor is more aligned with that of the hilariously perverse Fleabag, especially where it concerns the psychopathic assassin. Sandra Oh, meanwhile, is goddamn lightning here — effortlessly engaging and fun while also being seriously good at her job. She’s basically already locked up her Emmy win.
It’s a terrific series, the kind of show you look forward to, that never feels like a chore to watch. While episodes of great shows like The Terror or Legion might pile up on your DVR, Killing Eve is like the savory dessert that you eat first, that is satisfying but never leaves you feeling full.
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