Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Hitmen doesn’t pack a hard punch, but it’s still highly entertaining

Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins in Peacock’s Hitmen
Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins in Peacock’s Hitmen
Photo: Sky UK Limited
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Hitmen is not your typical lady assassins show: A music cue in the very first episode announces that our titular characters, Fran (Sue Perkins) and Jamie (Mel Giedroyc) will not be joining the sorority of chic killers like Beatrix Kiddo, Villanelle, or Arya Stark. As the signature crunchy sliding riff of “Run Fay Run”—used so effectively during a pivotal sequence in Kill Bill: Vol. 1—plays, Fran and Jamie bicker over what to do for Fran’s birthday. Jamie, ever the optimist, wants to plan a party; Fran, far smarter and much sadder, knows that nobody will come. The man dangling over the railing in a very public shopping mall, their intended target, draws attention to them before falling to his terribly gruesome—and wildly public—demise. Fran and Jamie are more Michael Scott than John Wick, which gives Hitmen’s span of six episodes the delightful dryness of a workplace comedy and the surprising tenderness of a tale about middle-aged friendship.

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The show’s six episodes find their comedy in the workaday tedium of contract killing: In the second episode, Fran and Jamie Google search—and reject, because they may be killers, but they’re not savages—various modes of torture to get the abrasive wealth manager (Sian Clifford, in a virtuoso display of neurotic brittleness) who’s been secreting funds from their employer, the nefarious “Mr. K,” to give up the password to her clandestine account. The target taunts them with a delicious vindictiveness: “My personal trainer says I have the pain threshold of someone in a medically induced coma.” Until, of course, happenstance, via a carry-out order of soup, reveals that her pain threshold stops sharply short at a soy allergy. Hitmen has a broad sense of humor, but this lack of sophistication is one of its charms: At one point, Jamie pranks a fellow hired gun, a dour Frankenstein-looking fellow, with a whoopee cushion and the unabashed earnestness of the bit-within-a bit actually lands. Another laugh-out-loud moment from the first episode (one that is best unspoiled) involves Jamie’s attempt to hire a stripper for Fran’s birthday.

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Each episode is structured around an individual kill, and the affable bagginess of that structure establishes the heroines’ abiding bond and sketches out their personalities. The hullabaloo over Fran’s birthday to-do (or not to-do) reveals that she’s a desperately lonely and compulsively masochistic woman: One of the series’ running, and a bit too-on-the-nose gags is Fran’s unseen Brazilian “green card” husband exploiting her goodwill and her bank account. So lonely, in fact, that her first target—a lawyer (Jason Watkins) who is defrauding Mr. K—ends up yukking it up over drinks and cake with his captors, and singing happy birthday (until, of course, it’s time to fulfill the contract). The lawyer isn’t just content to save his bacon. He’s also tired of being stuck in the back of a murder van: “Now that the adrenaline’s worn off, I’m actually pretty bored in here,” he whines.

These kinds of deft little characterizations make the show a genuinely uncomplicated pleasure to watch—especially in our era of perpetual doom-scrolling. Known across the pond as the beloved comedy duo “Mel and Sue,” Perkins and Giedroyc find an easy groove as two awkward, adrift people who have formed a real friendship in the same way that a stone gets worn down—through time and exposure. Fran is the more overtly competent (or, competent-ish) of the two, but she’s compelled, almost magnetically, toward anyone or anything that wants to sink their teeth into her (at one point, she even takes in a snarling dog that, quite literally, wants to rip her apart). Jamie is daffy to the point of absurdity—carrying a hard-boiled egg “baby” to a hit like a teenager trying to pass Home Economics, because she’s wondering if she should start thinking about having a baby (even after Fran reminds her that she’s in her 50s)—but she has an uncanny perceptiveness and a tender affection for her friend. She’s the one who points out the seemingly mutual attraction between Fran and an alpha bitch fellow assassin named Liz (Tonya Cornelisse) and encourages Fran to pursue it.

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This tonal fusion of slapstick silliness and wry heart is a welcome re-imagining of the lady assassin trope, which often demands that an anti-heroine look impossibly hot as she pulls a trigger and affect a constant, unflappable cool even in the most dire circumstances. It’s refreshing to watch women with wrinkles and smudged eyeliner attempt to be action stars—and be about as successful at it as any of us might be. Hitmen is hardly the most profound or memorable show of the year, but it’s not trying to do anything more than entertain us—and now, more than ever, that feels like more than enough. In its final episode, it hints at becoming a slightly deeper show, leaning into a vision of itself as more of platonic love story between two well-matched weirdos. Still, as a piece of blood-flecked froth, it’s highly enjoyable.

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