Hit & Miss debuts tonight on DirecTV's Audience Network at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Predictably (and here begins and ends any variant on the word predictable in this particular review), a show that revolves around the life of a preoperative male-to-female transsexual hitwoman suddenly responsible for four children, one of them fathered by her in her ersatz form, was originally conceived as two separate shows. Creator Paul Abbott (who must generally enjoy watching the youth run amok under an unconventional authority figure because he also created the original Shameless) claims he had two projects on his desk, one about a hitman, and one about a transsexual mother of five children. Like peanut butter and jelly, right? As outlandish as the crossing seems, apparently the familial instability at the heart of the series is not unlike Abbott’s own life; as a child, he was one of eight kids, looked after by his pregnant 16-year-old eldest sister after being abandoned by both mother and father. After seeing a couple of episodes of Hit & Miss this sounds familiar, with the addition of some assassin lineage of course, and the palpability of that drama makes an otherwise flawed show work.
The first episode begins with a strikingly clean kill, one that differs from the gory blood-fountain flashiness usually utilized to suck the audience into a show that involves regular murders. Mia (Chloë Sevigny) waits in a dark parking garage in a dark hoodie, finds her man, shoots him, and then placidly drives home to change her license plates. It is a bold choice that sacrifices the draw of spectacle or stylized violence in order to suggest early on that killing is just a job for this person. It may not be especially convenient work to the life of a newly minted mother of four (other than the reasonably flexible hours and bricks of cash, that is), but this isn’t a show about a killer with a crisis of conscience. The crisis in her life revolves far more around motherhood and gender identity than what Mia does for a living, and that is unexpected. It is a great opener only slightly undone by the cliché reveal that—gasp!—under that hoodie this assassin is a beautiful woman (it’s been done better, the music video for Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up being only one example). The second reveal, however—the full frontal nudity that shows us this beautiful woman is physically a man—is much more novel.
Seeing Sevigny with a wang is kind of unnerving, I’ve got to admit, and it is not because it is a refreshingly frank and un-fetishized image of a transsexual person. That was a nice surprise. It is because IT’S CHLOË SEVIGNY. This girl really took the plunge; apparently the effect of feeling like a woman on the inside but being forced to carry this male appendage on the outside, cognitive dissonance a real life transsexual might experience every day, was so disturbing to her that she cried every time they attached the modestly sized but stunningly realistic prosthetic. Perhaps she was able to channel that discomfort in a way that made sense for her character, because Sevigny’s performance is damn convincing as a Brit, hitman, transsexual, and alluring brunette. Except for the slightly on-the-nose deep voice she puts on, she conveys her physical state not through cliché references to masculinity but a generalized awkwardness, tenuous calm bordering on repression, all of which starts to come undone in the face of her new responsibilities in ways both good (letting people in) and bad (violent freakouts).
Performances are solid all around, but a major issue in the first two episodes is how it can be difficult to make sense of the supporting characters’ motivations. Mia has simply been dropped into the full lives of these children as much as they have been dropped into hers, and because the show is from her perspective, it makes sense that the audience has to piece their identities together as much as she does. While handily delivered back-stories might not be the answer, however, it is equally frustrating to have each of the children’s personalities boiled down to a few key points. Teenage Riley swims, tells people to fuck off a lot, and inexplicably bones the prick of a married landlord. Levi is fixated on masculinity and being the man of the house. Leonie, the Margaret O’Brien type baby of the family, adorably lacks a chin and goes to ballet classes. Only Ryan, the boy that Mia fathered, expresses something a bit deeper when he endearingly wonders if being a girl would make him more like Mia. Hopefully these characters will be better fleshed out as time goes on, and their perplexing dramatic outbursts will be ironed out a bit by logic, but seeing as there are only six episodes in the whole first series, it’s hard to imagine how Abbott might have pulled that off.
As dramatic as the emotional situations is the physicalization of them: the contrast of Mia’s city life with that of the farm her new wards live on, for example. The cityscapes are either grungily seedy, like the downmarket Chinese restaurant where Mia meets her boss to exchange information and cash, or vacuously clean to a fault. Mia’s own “apartment,” is like a huge, empty brick-and-concrete pigeon shithouse with a bed in one corner and a punching bag in the other. Meanwhile the country scenes are warm, green, and pleasantly chaotic, and they usually feature that perfectly overcast sky, the one that makes every scene so beautifully moody, that British television producers seem to have mastered so well. When Mia feeds the pigs at the farm a bloody shirt she wore during a hit, the symbolism of her new country life neatly swallowing up her sterile old one would be almost too much to bear if it weren’t for the disturbingly pleased look on Chloë Sevigny’s face when this happens. This is not exactly a subtle show (the drama is in-your-face, the symbolism is stark, the title a bit punny) but if you have the stomach for that sort of thing this is pretty well-made, high-end soap.
DirecTV has traditionally had more success picking up orphaned shows like Friday Night Lights and Damages, or securing quality syndication rights like those it recently scored for The Wire, than original programming (which has included, for example Rock In A Hard Place, a celebrity game show hosted by Meat Loaf.) In the last few years it seems to have worked on beefing up quality content by going on an international English-language shopping spree through Canada, Australia, and England, where Hit & Miss hails from. These picks seem edgy enough to garner attention, and with a bonafide TV and movie star like Chloë Sevigny on board, still flush with praise from her several year stint on Big Love, Hit & Miss might be more than just a summer fling.
- Mia’s wardrobe is to die for (or kill in?). As in real life, Ms. Sevigny’s get-up brightens every scene, all super hip high-waisted jeans and sheer blouses in deep plums and Missoni-style zig zags and killer, so-good-I-don’t-even-care-that-I’m-punning-about-them red boots and heels.
- While Sevigny’s British accent is reasonably good, it is still slightly perplexing to consider why a British channel (Sky Atlantic) presenting their first original programming would choose an American actress for the lead. She’s just shy of famous enough to warrant it unlike, let’s say, Gwyneth Paltrow throughout the entirety of the 1990s. What a dark time.
- Not to harp on the aesthetic, but seriously, do the Brits just churn out the best color correctors in the freaking world? How are those high-contrast grays (or, more appropriately, greys) always more saturated than gritty, and why do they make everything better, not just costume dramas?