There has never been a better time to be an assassin. On television, I mean. I don’t know enough about the real-life assassin game to make a claim about the gig one way or the other. I assume it’s fine. It seems like a fairly recession-proof job, I guess. But again, that’s not why we’re here. I swear. If you are a real-life assassin, do not read this paragraph and think I’m snooping around in your business. I am not. I would never. That’s the last thing I want to do. You can ask anyone. No business-snooping going on over here, no sir or ma’am. Not even a little. Please don’t kill me.
No, all we’re doing here is praising two of the best new shows of 2018 so far, Barry and Killing Eve, both of which are about fictional assassins. The shows are both fun and fascinating and dark as midnight on a farm and they somehow have everything and nothing in common, which makes them a perfect compliment to each other. We’ll get to that, though. First, some facts.
Barry is a new HBO series created by Bill Hader and Alec Berg (Silicon Valley) that stars Hader as a catastrophically depressed hitman named, you guessed it, Barry, who travels to Los Angeles for a job and gets bitten by the acting bug. Barry doesn’t particularly enjoy killing people but he is very, very good at it. This provides a nice counterbalance to his acting, which he very, very much enjoys but is not particularly good at. It’s a whole thing. He has a sleazeball handler (Stephen Root, killing it as always) and a sleazeball acting coach (Henry Winkler, also killing it as always) and a troubled relationship with the Chechen mob, including a guy named Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan), who is relentlessly upbeat and goofy and loves gadgets, kind of like if you crossed Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation with Bronson Pinchot’s character from Beverly Hills Cop. He’s the best.
Killing Eve is a new BBC America series created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) that stars Sandra Oh as a spy named Eve and Jodie Comer as an assassin named Villanelle. The main thrust of the show is the two characters tracking each other across Europe, with each of them becoming obsessed with the other to a degree that is not entirely healthy. Oh’s Eve is kind of a scattered mess, often right but also often surrounded by stacks of loose papers strewn about whatever room she’s in, while Comer’s Villanelle is the polar opposite, composed and cold and maniacal with a flair for the dramatic. The show is really cool to look at and captivating to watch and surprisingly funny in parts, in ways that will make you laugh in moments and at things you would not necessarily expect yourself to laugh at.
This brings us back to the point about the shows having everything and nothing in common. Barry is a half-hour show that starts from comedy and surprises with drama, with an assassin who hates his job and is looking for a way out. Killing Eve is an hour-long show that starts with drama and surprises with comedy, with an assassin who loves her job very much and would probably keep killing people even if they stopped paying her. But even with those differences, there’s enough similarity in tone and style that the shows feel like siblings, in a way. Definitely not twins. More like a brother and a sister who are separated by a few years and live very different lifestyles. He’s a serious and organized businessman, she’s a free spirit, they bicker like cats and dogs but they love each other and have heartfelt conversations on the porch like once every five years, at which point they realize they’re more alike than they want to admit. Those kinds of siblings. No, you’ve seen too many movies.
(This actually brings up an interesting point. The two assassins on these shows, Barry and Villanelle, would not get along at all. It’s kind of fun to picture them on a mission together. She’d be floating around and changing the plan on the fly and he’d be there swearing and making a whole series of frustrated Bill Hader faces, which would delight her. I think I want to see it now. Let’s get Hader and Waller-Bridge in a room and see if we can make this happen.)
The bottom line here is that two of the most original and exciting new shows of the year both feature assassins. And that’s in addition to the final season of The Americans, which is also airing right now and features people going undercover to kill various targets, although I’m not exactly sure if spies count as assassins. I think it’s a square/rectangle thing. Like all spies are assassins but not all assassins are spies. We’ll need a ruling on this at some point. Not from a real spy or assassin, though. Again, I’m not being nosy here. I’m just curious is all. Not, like, bad curious or anything. If you are an assassin or spy and you are reading this, I promise I am not trying to pry into your affairs. I wouldn’t even know where to start. And even if I did, I don’t even have a big empty wall to cover with grainy pictures of you in various disguises. Oh God. I’m making it worse, aren’t I? Look, I just like these shows a lot and I think you might, too. That’s all I’m saying.
Please do not kill me.