It takes a lot of work to make the cat-and-mouse game between a killer and an obsessive law enforcement official seem fresh again. On Killing Eve, the task seems effortless.
BBC America’s sublime new thriller (Sunday, 8 ET/PT, ***½ out of four) takes its cues from The Silence of the Lambs and Luther, but manages to spin the genre forward. Grounded by outstanding performances from Sandra Oh (in her first regular-series role since leaving Grey’s Anatomy) and Jodie Comer (The White Princess), Eve is an enthralling trip that follows a familiar path and then suddenly veers off course, never ceasing to shock and satisfy. The series manages to be as gripping as it is kooky and darkly funny, reveling in the tennis match between the two actresses.
Created by actress and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Solo: A Star Wars Story), the eight-episode Eve, which has already been renewed for a second season ahead of its premiere, is inspired by the Villanelle novels by Luke Jennings, and follows Eve Polastri (Oh) in her pursuit of a female assassin nicknamed Villanelle (Comer).
Eve is one of the few people at Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency who believes the assassin exists, and manages to link her crimes. (Although the series is set mostly in the U.K., Oh does not affect a British accent, a smart choice explained with some quick backstory). Dispatched by a senior official (Fiona Shaw) to an off-the-books investigation into Villanelle, Eve slowly becomes enmeshed in the killer’s web. Meanwhile, across Europe, Villanelle kills with glee and abandon, occasionally clashing with the mysterious organization that employs her.
Oh is as sharp as ever, nailing a character that’s the polar opposite of her Emmy-nominated performance as uptight Christina Yang on Grey’s. Eve gives the actress, often relegated to supporting roles, the opportunity to shine as a lead, and the mix of intelligence and mania she gives Eve is magnetic. She has the vibe of a conspiracy theorist, but her theories turn out to be scarily accurate.
Comer, too, is dynamic as Villanelle, who’s as eccentric as she is terrifying. In addition to an appetite for murder, she has a hunger for excitement, sex and simple diversion. She dresses up in costumes to meet her handlers, knocks ice cream away from children and plays games with her sexual partners.
She’s a different kind of villain from the stoic, serious men that populate many serial-killer dramas. She’s appealing in her own twisted, cartoonish manner, pouting and grinning her way into the hearts of her handlers and unsuspecting civilians who cross her path. Once Villanelle and Eve finally meet, the chemistry between Comer and Oh is electric, and their mutual obsession feels well-earned.
Eve may seem like a strange project for Waller-Bridge, next seen(sort of) as a motion-capture droid in the young Han Solo Star Wars film. She made her name with the acclaimed 2016 series Fleabag, a dark comedy about a young woman trying to put her family, romantic and professional life together after a loss. But what the comedic and tragic genre-blending Waller-Bridge did in Fleabag makes her well-suited to adapt the Villanelle novels. The sharply written series teeters between black comedy and outright tragedy, never forgetting that there are real human lives at stake as Eve and Villanelle bat each other around.
Even if it is a little too much fun to watch them spar.